SOCIAL INVESTMENTS TO STIR UP IN SPRING
Construction work in 24 Bulgarian municipalities will stir up in the spring after financing for 2002 of the biggest social investment programme in this country - the Beautiful Bulgaria project - has been approved this week. The Deputy Premier and Minister of Labour and Social Policies Lidiya Shouleva and Martha Ruedes, resident representative of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) have signed a memorandum for the expenses under the Beautiful Bulgaria project for the new season. The previous stage was completed ahead of schedule and the implementation of the third stage was frozen in October 2001 due to lack of funds. Now BGN10MN has been earmarked for the purpose in the National Employment Plan for 2002. Another BGN7MN will come from PROON and the municipalities, on whose territories the construction sites are situated.Ms. Shouleva has presented the new financing as expansion of the activities under the Beautiful Bulgaria project. Practically, however, the scope of Beautiful Bulgaria has been narrowed. The project included 42 municipalities until now, and after a contest was held, only 24 of them remained within. They will receive external financing for renewal of the facades of buildings of historical and architectural importance, for laying out parks and gardens, for reconstruction of public parks and squares, and for other construction and repair work. Their mayors, however, should provide 50% of the necessary funds. The possibility to ensure the money was the main criterion for choosing the 24 municipalities.According to calculations, only BGN4MN, or less than half of the BGN10MN ensured by the State budget, will be spent on new activities. The balance of some BGN6MN will cover commitments under projects from last year. The Government was to provide BGN16,390,000 for the implementation of the Beautiful Bulgaria project in 2001, of which BGN9.1MN was remitted by October when the project was frozen, while the municipalities and PROON fulfilled their commitments. Despite the difficulties, Beautiful Bulgaria is one of the most efficient programmes regarding employment. Its main shortcoming, which Ms. Shouleva pointed out immediately after assuming office, is that mostly temporary and not permanent working positions are opened for the unemployed, included in the project. Although Ms. Shouleva has been against this tendency since the very beginning of her mandate, by the new financial agreement she in fact continues this practice.In 2002 the Beautiful Bulgaria project will provide temporary jobs for 6,000 unemployed, 25% of whom are expected to get permanent occupation, Social Ministry officials explain. More than 29,000 temporary working positions were opened and over 1,000 facilities were reconstructed under the Beautiful Bulgaria programme from its start in 1998 till the end of 2001. The project received about USD30MN from various national and international sources within that period. Its financing from September 1, 1999 till June 30, 2001 was audited by the National Accounting Office and the results were announced during the week. The audit practically established the expenses, made by the time when the Government of PM Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha came into power. The audit found that USD5,613,453 was spent under the programme within that period. Most of the money - 73.6% of all expenses - went for construction and repair. The costs for training of the unemployed who got temporary jobs were 6.8 per cent. Thus, 80% of all funds went directly for the purposes of the Beautiful Bulgaria project - reduction of unemployment and renewal of cities, the National Accounting Office reported.No violations were found in the tender procedures for choosing contractors and in the spending of money. The project's team has ensured good and efficient management of the funds, the auditors' report reads.