WHO WILL SUPERVISE THE SUPERVISORS?
The experts from Brussels are probably very surprised by Bulgaria's new bill that is aimed at protecting taxpayers and executive power from conflict of interests. EU experts may be wondering where to start the consultations from, having in mind what strange thing the Committee on Administration has devised. The texts on referenda, lobbyism and conflict of interest should be ready by the end of October. The three acts appear in parliamentary committee, get mentioned in plenary session after a large corruption scandal and disappear again in some file in the archives. However, it is exactly because of the EU Commission's insistence that Bulgarian MPs will have no more time for further postponement. By the end of this plenary session, a text on the conflict of interests must get into Bulgaria's State Gazette. However, most probably it won't be in the shape it had when it left Parliament's Committee on administration issues. Yet before the three-week quarrels in Parliament, Minister of Justice, Meglena Tacheva, said the act needed to be coordinated with Brussels: We want to be sure that this is the text that we are expected to pass, and not something that won't work, she said on September 11.
Well, the piece of work will most probably reach EC experts, but it is doubtful if their possible criticism on it will ever go public. The authors of the text from the Ministry of Justice and the National Assembly would most probably keep silence so that they don't discredit themselves again.
At the beginning of the summer, the project was drafted at the Ministry of Justice in only three days. A working group at the Interior Ministry, led by the then minister Roumen Petkov, allegedly started working on a text against the conflict of interest in March. Then came the slashing report from the European Commission on country's corruption practices and … the bill was devised in the nick of time. Which means that the governmental working group had done nothing about that earlier.
Since June, the hastily composed regulation has rushed through several parliamentary committees and even through a plenary session for its first reading. At this stage, maybe even its authors from the Ministry of Justice won't recognize it. After painstaking consultations and meetings with magistrates, local authorities and mayors, the Parliament's administration committee decided … that nobody could be fired on the ground of a conflict of interests if his/her superior who has appointed him/her to the position is not willing to do so. MPs devised a way how they themselves as well as many other top officials may remain intangible. This group consists of the President of the Republic, the Prime Minister, ministers, members of Parliament, supreme magistrates, the ombudsman, the chairman and the members of the National Auditing Office, the Central Bank, the National Health Insurance Fund, mayors and councillors, who, if a case of conflict of interest is established, will be fired by … the Constitution of the Republic of Bulgaria. Since they have been appointed to their positions according to the Constitution, it will be the constitutional procedures that will supervise them.
Can we guess if these procedures will be triggered at all? Especially if top officials are to be supervised by their own people. A parliamentary committee is to check the signals over cases of conflict of interests among politicians and top magistrates. The Movement for Rights and Freedoms proposed that the supervising authority be the present state administration committee at the National Assembly. There are also voices for the Anti-Corruption Commission to be entitled with these functions. Opposition insists on entirely new committee that should not be dominated by the ruling party or coalition. There would be no wonder if in the short period remaining from the mandate of the 40th National Assembly a new committee gets set up, especially since MPs receive additional remuneration for participation in parliamentary committees. However, as it happened with the Committee on the Dossiers, a two-month quarrel may follow as to what the exact participation of different parties would be. If it is established at all, and if it starts working within this National Assembly, the committee will issue decrees on whether there are cases of conflicts of interests or no. It will be possible its decisions to be appealed before the Supreme Administrative Court.
It is again their own people who will supervise members of town councils and mayors. Can you guess who will be the members of the new commissions for checking signals for conflicts of interests in local authorities? The bosses of the Supreme Court of Cassation, and the Supreme Administrative Court, the judges, the prosecutors and investigators will also have their own commission for initiating such checks.
The fines for non-submission of declarations for conflicts of interests have also been reduced significantly in the process of reviewing the text. For failure to submit declaration in the due course, violators will be fined by between BGN1,000 and BGN3,000 for a first infringement and by BGN3,000 and BGN5,000 for a second one. In case a conflict of interest is established, the fines are between BGN5,000 and BGN7,000 for a first instance of violation and between BGN7,000 and BGN10,000 for a second one. There is also a ban a top official to enter into labour and other employment contracts with companies the official has worked with during his period of office for one year after leaving the state administration position, A violation of this ban will be sanctioned by between BGN10,000 and BGN15,000.
As a matter of fact, the procedure for proving and sanctioning a case of conflict of interests will lead to a even greater judicial mess, opposition and NGO legal experts told the BANKER weekly. Until the bill enters plenary session (popping round Brussels inbetween) Bulgarian MPs may decide how to define the term relative (including or excluding ex-spouses) that in joint business relations, appointments and other activities may form a case of a conflict of interests. These conflicts are now obvious for the whole nation and are invisible only for those in power. And if the MPs fail to pass a working regulation, the next National Assembly will have to do it, or at least to fix the problems and improve what is now being prepared.