WILL CROWN AGENTS JUSTIFY THE CONFIDENCE?
The Government placed great trust in the British company Crown Agents, assigning it to consult the reform at customs offices. The expert council that should be set up will face the difficult task to clean the Augean stables of the Bulgarian customs. Premier Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha and Finance Minister Milen Velchev obviously do not share the dictum that the rescue of drowning men is their own task, and entrusted for three years (from now on) the salvage of the sinking customs vessel to the British company against GBP8,132,000. Crown Agents promised within that period to stop the outflowing of billions of leva per year through the borders. However, the fact that the Cabinet did not venture, or more precisely was not willing to invite a tender under the Public Procurement Act, is disturbing.After the official signing Mr. Velchev and Crown Agents' Executive Director for orders and consultancy services David Philips specified that the price of the deal includes all expenses for salaries, accommodation, transport, communications, and software. However, they omitted to say that the largest share of the money would be spent for paying remuneration to the consultants.The BANKER weekly has at its disposal a price list of the British company's services, which the well-known Chairman of the Council on Reform at Customs Maurice Camble handed to Mr. Velchev. According to informed sources, this was done in end-September, 2001. If this is true, it means that the specifying of the contract's most important parameters had begun well before October 25. On that date the Government held a secret meeting and authorized the Finance Minister to close a contract with the British company. The price list was enclosed with the technical part of the future contract. The offer was worth a total of GBP2,220,000 per year, some GBP500,000 down from the amount, announced when the contract was signed on November 29. Mr. Camble, however, explained that in that version the projected expenses did not entirely guarantee the fulfillment of the planned services. The aggregate worth of the programme will primarily depend on the number of projected experts, the offer reads.Another curious thing is that the initial offer does not include expenses for the position of Chairman of the Council on Reform at Customs. If this position is included, the amount for his annual remuneration would approximate GBP188,000, Mr. Camble wrote. According to pundits from the Customs' headquarters, Mr. Camble who was presented as advisor to the Customs Agency Director Emil Dimitrov, was to be appointed director of the council's Honesty and Incorruptibility Department if the scheme with a chairman of the same body was not approved.The settling of the dilemma regarding Mr. Camble's post, which although inofficially replicates the position of the Customs Agency Director explains why the contract was signed in the absence of Mr. Dimitrov.Under the project worked out by Crown Agents the council should include three more directors of the departments Internal Audit, Inquiries and Investigation, and Operational Activities on Incorruptibility. The three will be on pay-roll and their annual remuneration is projected at GBP96,000. Customs consultants will settle their everyday necessities such as accommodation, etc. for GBP18,000. The British company's proposal envisions that expenses for all translation and interpreting services and for telecommunications of the brain trust will be paid from the Customs Agency's budget. GBP2,500 per year is projected for transport costs of the higher customs consultants. A total of GBP6,000 per year has been required for maintenence of the automobiles and telephones of the five council's directors.One of the first steps we'll undertake on coming to Bulgaria will be to increase the number of mobile groups for control over smuggling, David Philip said for the BANKER weekly. According to preliminary information, Crown Agents' experts intend to set up ten more mobile teams, which like the presently acting ones will be working in cooperation with the Internal Ministry. The consulting company plans a total of GBP123,000 annually for securing the operation of the mobile groups, Crown Agents' offer reads. GBP96,000 of that amount should go for remuneration to these groups' heads. Crown Agents' draft programme makes its clear that the total number of experts to be working in Bulgaria was initially set at 32, and in the course of negotiations went up to thirty seven. This is one of the reasons of the higher price at which the contract was signed last week.Will Crown Agents justify the confidence of Bulgarian authorities? This is the question asked by many. If we judge on the results of the company (declared by itself) in Lithuania, Georgia, Mozambic, etc., only after a year and a half the amount of GBP8,132,000 should equal the one-day proceeds from customs dues and taxes into the budget. However, it is not clear from the contract if indemnities are projected in case of non-fulfilment of obligations on the part of any of the two parties.