SMALL MANOEUVRES ON THE SECOND FLOOR
By an old Bulgarian tradition, in the beginning of each government's mandate a merciless battle starts not just for the posts of ministers and their deputies, but also for the top seats in key state and executive agencies. The bargaining among members of the ruling coalition about who should top the attractive Tourism Agency that ended last week is the best illustration of how influence is being negotiated behind the curtains. Information spread by the media about former prime minister Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha who has interests in the Super Borovets project overtrumping his deputy in the National Movement Simeon II (NMSII), Milen Velchev, whose brother runs a few hotels at the Black Sea coast is not so good for the image of Bulgaria which applied for playing host to the 2014 winter olympics. Apparently, times change, but ruling tempers in Bulgaria do not.
The drama about the tourism sector that will finally be entrusted to Mario Al Jeburi is not the only manoeuvre on the second floor of power which threatens to demolish the fragile foundation of the coalition cabinet. The list of
in both state and executive agencies reveals that even though the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) has the biggest number of ministers and MPs, it has not yet conquered the most significant lower-level ruling levers. Among the state agencies, for example, the left-wing only control the Agency for Youth and Sports (which was created after the transformation of the former sports ministry). Vessela Lecheva, former red member of the parliament and rifle practice player, was appointed head of the agency. Not a small amount planned for financing sports is going to pass through the structure that managed to gain a status of a first-line budget funds regulator. However, that may not be a great relief to the political force that won the elections. The socialists also had to reconcile with the fact they were going to work with the state reserve directors, appointed by the previous government. The reserve director Dimitar Dimitrov was appointed last May by the cabinet of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha after a noisy scandal with the previous director, Yovcho Yovchev, nominated by the Movement for Rights and Freedom. The management of the Audit Office represented by NMSII former MP Valeri Dimitrov and the deputy director of the Financial Supervision Commission, Ralitsa Again, who were chosen at the end of the 39th National Assembly's mandate, is in a similar situation. An additional excitement was caused by the appointment of Stoyan Kushlev, ecological law specialist, as a chairman of the Commission for Seizure of Criminal Property. NMSII gained stable positions in the Supreme Administrative Court, too, thanks to the appointment of Konstantin Penchev as chairman.
Contrary to the expectations
the red broom
did not swing about the high floors of the executive agencies (with a few exceptions). Still, the socialists placed quite many of their representatives in the boards of state-owned companies where their ministers were principals. But Prime Minister Stanishev and his team failed to gain control in the structures subordinate to the Ministry of Finance whose operations are most decisive for the fulfillment of the budget. Maybe because when Plamen Oresharski was appointed financial minister it was announced that his department would stay above the party. But it is this position that may play a trick on the coalition as a whole.
The first scandal about the administration of
exploded last November when a new director of the former Chief Tax Directorate (now called National Revenue Agency) was elected. Following the resignation of the then chief tax director Nikolay Popov, Deputy Finance Minister Georgi Kadiev boosted Plamen Grozdanov's candidature. It turned out, though, that years ago Grozdanov had been investigated because of fictitious export of value-added tax. As Plamen Oresharski interfered, the cabinet appointed Maria Murgina. She is considered close to the financial minister and her appointment has been provoked by expert motives rather than political. Whether or not it is successful will be seen when the revenues agency reports its operating results.
Following a scandal in the media, a change was made in the State Gambling Commission. The former head of the commission, Metodiy Kirov, who was investigated for service crime, handed in his resignation last autumn. To everybody's surprise, he was succeeded by... the popular agricultural leader Georgi Petrov. He presided the gambling commission for a while under the ruling of NMSII, but the former financial minister Milen Velchev dismissed him for inability to do his work. But as it often happens in Bulgaria, the court sent back Petrov to his post. Expectations that he would be dismissed by the new minister Oresharski in a few days did not come true. Georgi Petrov was allowed to carry out the re-licensing of the companies in the branch. He is believed to be supported by a prominent gambling boss because of whom the financial ministers had political troubles years ago. Such claims may be exaggerated. It is true, however, that Petrov remained immovable even when the Audit Office announced a report on violations committed during his first mandate on top of the gambling commission.
Even though scandals explode almost every week because of new smuggling channels revealed and arrests of corrupted officials
the Customs Agency Director
Assen Assenov stays firm on his post. He enjoys the protection of NMSII and has often been praised by the red politician Georgi Kadiev. Whether it is possible that the parallel life in customs goes on behind Assenov's back while he always remains infallible seems a rhetorical question.
Another head of an agency under the financial ministry, Vassil Kirov, who runs the financial investigation body, kept his post but has problems with the prosecutors' office. Recently, Nikola Filchev ordered his subordinates in the public prosecution to inspect the operations of the Financial Investigation Agency which registered few signals for money-laundering suspicions.
Things went much calmer in the State Receivables Agency. Few people outside the financial circles understood that late last year Stanislav Mihailov was replaced by Ventsislava Petkova. Roumen Borissov, head of the Agency for Economic Analyses and Forecasts, was quietly substituted by Petar Chobanov. Ginka Draginska, considered close to the Movement for Rights and Freedom, who presides the state financial control kept her post in expectation of the new laws regulating the auditing of budget spending.
The economic ministry is much less occupied with
than the financial department. Roumen Ovcharov concentrated on rearranging the boards of state-owned companies. But he chose to work with the directors appointed by the cabinet of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha - Todor Nikolov (head of the Privatisation Agency), Miglena Pavlova (Public Procurement Agency) and Pavel Ezekiev (Bulgarian Investment Agency).
The management of the Roads Agency, which is in the structure of the regional ministry and is among the most attractive for the political forces, was replaced quite civilly. Few days before Christmas, the former director Veliko Zhelev was seen off with honour and Vesselin Georgiev replaced him. On this occasion the minister said that it was the first time a former head of the Roads Agency quit without anger or without being discharged.
The absence of significant manoeuvres on the second floor of the state ruling may be the beginning of a new coalition culture in Bulgaria. If only there is no confirmation to the rumours that the newest trick played by the authorities in their corruption schemes is... the purchase of posts.