Банкеръ Weekly

Briefs

TRACING THE LOST ROMANY MILLIONS

THE COMMISSION FOR FIGHTING CORRUPTION UNTWINES EUR3MN PHARE PROJECT
Nice job, but not so well done. This is how one can describe the process of absorption of the millions of euro that the European Union (EU) launches for integration of the minorities every year under the PHARE program. As the BANKER weekly already informed on August 19, the Commission for Fighting Corruption with the National Assembly is planning to take a special account of all
Romany projects
financed by the community since 2001. No matter how late the measure was taken, it is undoubtedly very necessary. Despite the large European funds spent in the past few years, the living standard and the temper of the darker-skinned population of the country have not changed much. On the other hand, scandals about the implementation of Romany projects by the National Council for Ethnic and Demographic Issues with the cabinet and dozens of NGOs are numerous. Unfortunately, the members of the European Commission (EC) know a thing or two and began to realize that the subsidies they were launching for reprochement with the minorities were depreciating somewhere in the local bureaucratic labyrinths.
The concrete occasion that made the Antimafia parliamentary commission take up disentangling the Romany financial swindles was
the report of the consulting company
ECOTEC on the implementation of the PHARE-2001 project Integration of the Romany People worth EUR3MN. The EU budget provides EUR2.3MN of the money, while EUR675,000 come as national co-financing from the treasury. The project aims at training 300 teachers and 100 assistant lecturers in regions with mixed population, appointing 100 minority representatives to the public administration, providing computers, textbooks and school materials for Romany infants, as well as preparing legislative amendments against ethic discrimination. The National Council for Ethic and Demographic Issues and the Ministry of Education and Science are registered as executors from the Bulgarian side and the financial ministry is to coordinate the absorption of the money.
According to the Bulgarian report sent to the EC, the project has
ended successfully
in autumn 2004. What is more, it has been included in the brochure of immaculate PHARE projects released by the Ministry of Finance recently. It turns out, however, that ECOTEC consultants take a different view. In their final report to EC (dated November 24, 2004) they rated the implementation of the initiative unsatisfactory. The experts found out with surprise that the legislation acting in Bulgaria did not allow assistant teachers enter the classrooms to translate from Bulgarian into Romany for the pupils. The situation is almost the same with the appointment of 100 Romany public officials (with elementary education only). Considering the still acting regulations of the Public Official Act, this cannot be done if there is no university degree diploma. What is more, the officials are obliged to pass through a competition. It turns out that the country tried, to say the least, mislead Brussels by taking support for something it has known from the start could not be done in practice.
Similar conclusions were made from the
parallel monitoring
on the project carried out by the Amalipe non-governmental organisation. In early July, its representatives warned the Commission for Fighting Corruption about irregularities in the process of absorbing the EUR3MN. According to Amalipe Chairman, Deyan Kolev, the project has been prepared without preliminary research about whether it was possible to appoint assistant teachers and who of the school directors would agree with allowing two teachers in one and the same class. Moreover, the project has been developed by foreign consultants who have not been aware of the Bulgarian education norms.
Suspicions about swindles with the EU money for the Romany population first aroused in March 2005. At the time, the cabinet led by the National Movement Simeon II (NMSII) fired the secretary of the National Council for Ethnic and Demographic Issues, Mihail Ivanov. The motives for his dismissal were not announced officially, but the ECOTEC report is supposed to be among the reasons.
As a matter of fact, this is not the end of the oddities in the absorption of the Romany millions. The Amalipe organisation warned the Antimafia commission about a few curious issues in the
selection of companies
that were about to execute the project Integration of the Romany People. In early 2003, this responsibility was entrusted to the Central Unit for Negotiation and Financing with the Ministry of Finance. However, its representatives in the competition commission only have deliberative vote in the choice of executors, whereas the final decision is to be taken by the so called beneficiaries (the National Council for Ethnic and Demographic Issues and the educational ministry).
The first competition was for technical support (worth EUR765,000) and was scheduled for January 2003. Later, it was cancelled because the financial ministry experts decided none of the applicants met the participation requirements. The exercise was repeated a few months later - in June 2003, when Care International, a consortium with Austrian participation, was declared the winner with the highest possible score (100 points). At first sight, there is nothing irregular in this story. That's why it came as a surprise when the Ministry of Finance refused to provide the parliamentary Commission for Fighting Corruption with information about who were the other applicants and who were next on the list. According to the Chairman of the commission, Boyko Velikov, he received a letter from Minister Plamen Oresharski defining the bidding data confidential.
The second of the three bids on the Romany project passed with an
interesting scenario
in the middle of 2003, too. It was for a delivery contract worth EUR1.470MN and was divided in three lots. The first one was for providing Romany children with books, school materials and games. Initially, the bid was scheduled for August 2003, but was then cancelled because there were no candidates. In the following November, a second bid was organized in two-week time and the only applicant, the consortium between Prosveta AD printing house and Comset AD, was declared the winner. The consortium was additionally favoured by the requirement stipulating that the executor deliver simultaneously textbooks and school materials, Amalipe members claimed. They say that a criterion of the kind automatically eliminates the chance for bidding by those who only distribute school materials (notebooks, pens, etc.) and gives significant advantage to the printing houses.
The lack of competition has obviously had a positive effect on the winners, because according to figures provided by the anti-corruption commission, the deliveries they have made are at prices between three and
twenty times the prices
on the domestic market. Therefore, Romany first grade pupils had to receive small Solingen scissors at... BGN7.
There was one applicant, Vilis EOOD in partnership with Intellect Co EOOD, that appeared and won the contract for delivery of shoes and clothes worth EUR158,487. There was real bidding (by four applicants) in the third lot only, the one for delivery of audio equipment and computers worth EUR126,780. The contract was won by Express Consult Sofia EOOD. In a statement to the Commission for Fighting Corruption, experts from the Ministry of Finance explained that the application of a single candidate did not contradict the PHARE management rules. Whether or not this meets the requirements of the Public Procurement Act operating in Bulgaria is a different question.
Considering there are so many questions about both the procedure and the implementation of an allegedly successful PHARE project, we shouldn't be surprised to hear the European Commission warning it might reduce the assistance to the country.

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