THE REPORT ON EUROPEAN MONEY PROVED TO BE A COMPILATION
A report of the Premier Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha on the utilization of funds provided by the PHARE and ISPA programmes of the European Union (EU) was delivered to the Parliament in early September. The Premier was authorized to make the analysis when on July 27 the members of the Parliament asked that the report be accompanied by concrete instructions to the Council of Ministers aimed at correcting the mistakes. The assignment was preceded by hearing the conclusions of a parliamentary commission established several months earlier which inspected how the Ministry of Regional Development and Public Works had utilized the European money in the 1999-2004 period.Those who had expected PM Saxe-Coburg-Gotha to offer an extraordinary text or revolutionary measures in order to stop the draining of EU assistance funds through the loose strainer of the state administration left disappointed. It turned out that the nearly 30-page document signed by the Premier is practically a simple complilation. Its authors should have mentioned the website of the Ministry of Finance as their major source of information. The comprehensive information that the leader of the National Movement Simeon II (NMSII) poured upon the MPs includes pieces of the July inquiry of experts from the Ministry of Finance, parts from the memorandums between Bulgaria and the European Commission, and quotes from Bulgaria's negotiation opinion on chapter Regional Policy and Coordination of Structural Instruments.Suspicions that the Premier's report came simply as a result of a copy/paste operation by the officials authorized to write it grow bigger because of the clumsy bureaucratic vocabulary. The MPs read that part of the projects under PHARE were proposed for reallocation and remodification of the cards, whatever that means in literary Bulgarian language. The other announcement was that most executive agencies working on the two pre-accession programs undertake corrective measures to improve the results. Moreover, some of the deadlines in the report have already expired and some of the measures have been taken. One example is the appointment of a new deputy minister in the Ministry of Regional Development and Public Works.As a matter of fact, not all the contents of the report should be considered done for show. The figures revealing how much money was launched by the European Commission, approved and actually paid in the 1998-2003 period are precious, although the Finance Minister Milen Velchev announced them several times already.According to the Prime Minister, one of the problems is the inability of companies applying for European financing to prepare their tender files. Another difficulty are the delayed procedures in agencies that arrange the tenders. An obstacle in the negotiation of funds has been the absence of a permanent financial leader of the European Commission delegation in Sofia from September 2002 to September 2003. The obscure issue of land ownership and the unsatisfactory preliminary research in construction projects are mentioned there, too. The negative list also includes the building of the Nikopol cross-border check-point and the construction of the Makaza border point.Besides, the PM complains of of the lack of a sufficient number of qualified experts who could work on European projects, even though according to the Ministry of Finance 321 state officers are engaged in PHARE initiatives alone. The report to the National Assembly also contains indirect accusations against representatives of the legislative power because of the delayed harmonization of the regulations with those of the EU. That is why the projects for reforms in the judicial system and stabilization of the administrative capacity of the still unestablished National Forest Company fail. However, the report keeps delicate silence about the reduced financing for customs projects in 2002 caused by duplication with the consulting assistance agreement signed by the Finance Ministry and crown Agents. There is neither a word about the confusion with the frozen Brussels financing for the construction of business incubators in six Bulgarian municipalities because of corruption among officers in the Ministry of Economy. The Premier sees nothing bothering in the fact that only EUR35.567MN (17.29% of the assistance for Bulgaria) has been paid since 2000 of the total amount of EUR615.120MN, negotiated for 25 projects in transport, infrastructure, and environment under ISPA. One contributor to the worrying result are the expenses made on seminars and technical assistance with supplement the main projects.Unfortunately, of all the larger Bulgarian proposals under ISPA the only project in progress is the Transit Roads 3 one. The electrification of the Plovdiv-Svilengrad railway road for which a competition for executors was announced has advanced, too. The PM curiously notes in the report that he finds the construction of the new passenger terminal at the Sofia airport advanced and the activities going on in line with the initial schedule. Obviously, the latest scandals between the Ministry of Transport, the executor Strabag, and its subcontractors, escaped the attention of the Premier.In conclusion, the report offers a package of ten measures aimed at more efficient utilization of the European money. Among them is the country's well-known commitment to introduce the extended decentralization implementation system (EDIS) according to which, starting 2006, payments on the projects will be approved by the Ministry of Finance and not the European Commission and its delegation in Sofia.The proposal for introduction of information monitoring systems of the two programmes does not sound unfamiliar, either. One system of the kind is alerady operating in the Financial Ministry for the purpose of ISPA.The idea to raise the number of personnel in agencies responsible for utilization of the European funds was presented back in the spring of 2002 in the strategy for utilization of the EU money.