PAPER SWALLOWS AGAINST CORRUPTION
A miracle will happen in Bulgaria in the end of this month. Rulers will state in written how they have favoured from power. However, nobody has promised to make that public. By March 31 high-ranking state officials should file a declaration form No2, approved by Premier Sergey Stanishev. In it they will declare their personal participation in trade companies in spheres outside the person's duties, presence or absence of commercial, financial and other business interests connected with the husband's (wife's) or relatives' rights, or received remuneration for personal labour, apart from the salary for the occupied working position. That is said in the Government's press release of March 6 when the PM stated he obliged his subordinates to file three kinds of declarations connected with conflict of interests. The first one will be filed once on the appointment and will be for lack of circumstances which are an obstacle to occupy the respective position. We have already mentioned the second one, to be submitted by end-March each year. And the third one shall be addressed to their direct boss. In it the official should frankly confess that premises for personal interest have occurred which could influence the fulfilment of his or her direct tasks. These declarations shall be filed immediately upon the occurrence of a situation that could cause such a conflict. Premier Stanishev coyly specified that most of these requirements existed still before his historical decision, but he rewrote them more clearly.
A dozen of days have passed since then and a number of new things have come up, the most significant of which that the European Union (EU) held up the funds for Bulgaria and its PHARE, ISPA and SAPARD programmes. Why? Due to suspicions of corruption and the EU commissioners' conviction that the money from European taxpayers are being spent untransparently and inefficiently.
How many declarations are necessary
in order to eliminate Brussels' suspicions, considering that almost every day there is new evidence of scams? Let alone the unpleasant feeling in the Bulgarian society that our rulers fill their own pockets not only with EU money, but also that of this country's citizens.
Instead of causing enthusiasm, the PM's measures caused further suspicions. In the first place - if the three kinds of papers would be made public or remain for private use? Of course, they will be different from those that are filed annually to the Audit Office. The new declarations won't go there and will be moved directly to the newly established State Agency for National Security (SANS), controlled in almost equal parts by the PM and President Georgi Parvanov. Within a week after filing the documents, they have to be sent to SANS' Chairman. The agency will be controlling their correctness and if there is any difference in the information, it will notify the respective boss. In other words, SANS' head Petko Sertov should discretely notify the Premier or a certain minister, and if the latter considers it appropriate, he could still more secretly pull the ears of the official, sunk in conflict (and benefits). The latter, if he finds it necessary to make excuses, would probably say he has found it too complicated to fill in the new forms and has made a mistake.
Nothing hampers to keep these circumstances in secret
from the public and the mass media
under the pretext that unsound political elements could use them to damage Bulgaria's image. Moreover, the Premier's noble initiative does not make it clear how some already established situations would be dealt with and if a state official would have to quit his post if a relative of his/hers runs a business within his/her or neighbouring sectors.
It remains also a secret what PM Stanishev was gaping at when the Ethics Code of the State Official was approved in 2005. And was it purposely that the final version of the plan for the Cabinet's action, hurriedly approved in June 2006 said that the declaring of interests was of obligatory or voluntary character? These good wishes appeared after the criticism in the Overall Monitoring report of the European Commission of May 16, 2006. Following the report, the Government prepared a text intended to throw dust in Brussels' eyes. In its part on counteracting corruption it was written: The obligation to declare the property and conflict of interests exists for all state officials as per the regulations of the Act on the State Official.
In accordance with the organization and activity of the National Assembly, when moving in draft bills and making statements during plenary sessions or parliamentary commissions, an MP who has a financial interest in the discussed issue, is obliged to reveal that interest.
Property declarations are also mandatory for a wide circle of people, occupying senior state positions, MPs included, as per the provisions of the efficient Law on Publicity of the Property of High-Ranking State Officials.
Two years later it turned out the PM found himself in a humiliating situation, obliging his subordinates to observe the laws. On the other hand, the conviction that declarations could throw dust in the eyes of our EU partners, bespeaks of either dullness or impudence. Moreover, the Premier can give orders to the governmental officials, but not to the MPs and higher magistrates.
Stanishev's epic battle with corruption is rather comic and his efforts are in a single direction:
to save the parliamentary majority
from passing a special law against the conflict of interests, including also the MPs and magistrates. The tripartite coalition does not want to accept seriously the draft bill moved by the UDF MP Philip Dimitrov which has been shelved in Parliament for five years. It suggests that the regulations against hiding conflict of interests should include MPs, ministers, members of political cabinets, and higher magistrates. Husbands and wives of high-ranking state officials are forbidden to close deals and get public procurement orders not only from the place of work of their marital partner but from all other state institutions.
In fact voices in favour of such a law are already more often heard in Parliament, at that - not on the part of the opposition alone. Many MPs from the NMSII approve of it because it will hurt their former colleagues from the circle of Borislav Ralchev and Plamen Panayotov. The problem lies with
the coalition partners from BSP and MRF
The Premier himself said on March 6 (but so quietly that the media nearly missed it) that the possibility was considered for approving an overall legislative act to protect the public interest or of a law for preventing and avoiding conflict of interests. PM Stanishev believes that the legislative act should include not the executive power alone, but a wider range of people - representatives of the legislative, judiciary, and local power, and even some NGOs.
It just remains to ask the question why the Premier preferred to wave the three declarations in the face of the Bulgarian and European taxpayers instead of initiating the passing of such a law, that is so necessary?What problem would it be with the stable parliamentary majority? The reply would certainly be - a postponement till the end of the tripartite coalition's mandate, and eventually - an alibi for Brussels.