THE AUDIT OFFICE IS ENTITLED TO INSPECT HOW EUROPEAN MONEY IS SPENT
Associate Professor Georgi Nikolov, Chairman of the Audit Office, to the BANKER weeklyOctober 13, 2004 is the expiry date of associate professor Georgi Nikolov's nine-year mandate as Chairman of the Audit Office. He has been presiding Bulgaria's supreme audit institution since its establishment. I hope that the new chairman will take office on that day, too, Mr. Nikolov told the BANKER weekly. The choice of a successor should not be delayed because otherwise it would create useless tension in the Audit Office as it already happened in some other institutions. It is the political forces and the Parliament to make the choice, he added. I have neither right nor willingness to influence their decision, he said.He only wants that the new chairman and members of the national body continue what his own team has created from zero. The Audit Office has to keep establishing itself as an impartial institution that brings the results of its work to light without being influenced by any political party, Mr. Nikolov said.Mr. Nikolov, the Audit Office report published recently on the auditing of ISPA programme financing provoked the establishment of an inquiry commission which was authorized to inspect how the Ministry of Regional Development and Public Works utilized the funds received. Doubts were expressed that the audit had been ordered with a political purpose. Do these suspicions have grounds?- Definitely not. The inspection was carried out as part of the Audit Office 2003 auditing programme. While preparing it, we required information from the National Fund (with the Ministry of Finance) about projects financed by the European Union (EU) and threatened by delay for different reasons. On the basis of that information, we planned to audit the ISPA programme activities in the executive agencies with several ministries - the Ministry of Transport and Telecommunications, the Ministry of Environment and Water, the Ministry of Regional Development and Public Works, as well as in the Roads Executive Agency with the latter.The initiative aimed at providing the respective authorities with independent and objective evaluation of how efficient the implementation of ISPA programme projects had been. It also was meant to support the managers of the executive agencies in improving the management and the utilization of the programme funds. The inspection revealed that the Ministry of Regional Development and Public Works had faced the greatest number of problems in this aspect. The same ministry reported the biggest delay in utilizing the funds launched by the EU.Who is to blame for the delayed utilization of the European funds? The incumbent Minister of Regional Development and Public Works or his predecessors?- I would not like to mention any names here. And the inquiry commission should not do it, either. It is more important that its members study the reasons and recommend the measures that will improve the utilization of the money - not only by the Ministry of Regional Development and Public Works but also by the other ministries inspected (by the Audit Office) which were not, oddly enough, examined by the commission. In order for the EU projects to start sooner and the money to be utilized, attention should be paid to the methods that could increase the personnel in the Delegation of the European Commission in Bulgaria. That is how assessments of the projects can be received sooner. But this is an issue that only Brussels can settle. We are obliged to send reports to both the European Audit Office (EAO) and the European Commission on the results from the auditing of funds received from the EU. In the terms of EU enlargement, the EAO is going to become more reliable on the control exercised by the national audit offices since it doesn't have the capacity to inspect how the European funds are being spent in each country.In case that misappropriation of EU funds is confirmed, we are obliged to send the audit papers or the reports to the EU specialized bodies that prevent and combat frauds and corruption. We have to do so in order to protect the interests of the EU. We also have to send our annual control programme which refers to the auditing of European funds to the EAO and EC. These structures have to be informed about how much money we are going to audit in the respective year. The cooperation with the EAO and EC is considered a factor for the efficient activities of the Audit Office in the pre-accession period and in the course of Bulgaria's EU membership. Due to the latest amendments to the Audit Office Act, Bulgaria enjoys one of the best regulations of external audit among the countries that joined or are about to join the European Union.