RAILWAYS RECKON WITHOUT THE HOST
The efforts of the Transport Minister Petar Mutafchiev to secure the much-needed for the survival of the local railway company fresh capitals are about to enter a dead end street. The probability of him getting the requested BGN700MN from the 2009 budget is close to zero, a source from the Government told the BANKER weekly.
The minister himself gave indirect indications that such a scenario might be possible. During the presentation of financial framework for development of the national railway operator and the railway infrastructure company he did not hide that the breakdowns of the Finance Ministry envisage 75% less funds than what the ministry has asked for. There is no way we could get the money unless they are redirected to us from other sectors. In order this to happen, the state has to give the highest possible priority to the development of the railway sector, Transport Minister pointed out.
Let us remind, that the report devised in co-operation with the chairman of the Parliament's transport committee Yordan Mateev, envisages a total of BGN3.94BN to go for modernisation of the railway infrastructure in Bulgaria by 2013, while another BGN2.56BN has to be allocate to modernisation of the trains.
The policy we proposed assumes aggressive investment in the sector. It includes financing from the state budget, loans, and funds from the Transport operative programme as well as ISPA. If the proposals gets accepted, 60% of the railway company's train fleet will be renewed. Bulgaria is on one of the last places in terms of investment in the sector, because the funds it allocates to railway transportation come to only 0.18% of the country's GDP, Petar Mutafchiev announced. According to Yordan Mirchev, the main principle in the proposed policy is the long-term investing so that the financial burden of the state may be decreased with the time.
The same promises were heard three months ago during the meeting of the tripartite coalition in Bansko. Back then, there were voices for spending BGN200MN from the country's state budget surplus on immediate replacing of obsolete carriages. Unfortunately, the state decided to allocate only BGN60MN for that purpose.
The National Road Infrastructure Company got BGN30MN for building, repair and maintenance of the railway infrastructure and the same amount was given to the railway operator for covering its deficit for operating obligatory public transport services and support to the investment programme for improving the train fleet. The sum is absolutely ridiculous as compared to the hundreds of millions poured, without any economic logic, into the so called 'social package' .
Of course, the ministry's policy with respect to the railways should be far more aggressive. Proactiveness does not mean to ask for BGN200MN, without being able to defend the sum, ending up with only BGN60MN. How can one say that the railway transportation is one of the Government's priorities then? This is a mock, former transport minister and present chairman of the Scientific and Technical Union of Transport, Kiril Ermenkov, told the BANKER weekly. In his words, the chance the requested BGN700MN to be actually granted are almost an illusion, although the country's railways do need the money.
The programme that has been presented is not bad - it has collected good amount of data, but it should be further elaborated. Apart from that, one should think not only in mid-term perspective, or by 2013, as it is now, but in at least ten-year one. It is true that the money needed is not negligible - it amounts to between BGN700MN and BGN800MN for each of the first five years and reach BGN900MN and even BGN1.0BN for the next several years. This is the only way we may catch up with the western EU standards in the next three to four years. And a truly responsible government should be well aware of this fact, Ermenkov believes.
The extent to which local rulers will be concerned with the problems of the railways will become known very soon. If the measures devised by Petar Mutafchiev and Yordan Mirchev receive approval at political level, the strategy may go into Parliament next month. Only then may one speak of visible commitment on the part of the state. Although, such a perspective at present doesn't seem very probable.