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Archive for July, 2009

Bulgaria, Romania again criticised for failing to tackle corruption effectively

Irish Times – The European Union has again criticised Bulgaria and Romania for not doing enough to combat corruption, and said it would continue to monitor their efforts.

The European Commission says in an annual report on the two Black Sea countries, published on Wednesday, that despite some progress, anti-corruption measures in Romania were fragmented, while Bulgaria had failed to rein in organised crime.

Underlining its concerns over the failure to root out corruption, which could further dampen enthusiasm in the EU for letting other Balkan countries accede, the Commission said it would continue to monitor the two countries annually.

The EU has the right until the end of 2009 to punish the two member states by suspending certain EU laws there.

“The reform momentum that has been established now needs to be backed up by a national political consensus involving all political parties and institutions, and more convincing delivery of results,” Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso said.

New Bulgarian prime minister Boiko Borisov, whose centre-right Gerb party won an election this month, responded by reiterating a pledge to step up the fight against corruption.

“To soften Brussels’s tone, it is important to demonstrate political will from day one in office of the new government,” said Tsvetan Tsvetanov, Gerb’s chairman.

Romanian justice minister Catalin Predoiu called for a political consensus to allow the judicial system to function efficiently and the courts to take fast decisions.

“With or without a monitoring mechanism, Romania will remain committed to pursuing judicial reforms because such reforms are, first of all, in the interest of its citizens,” Mr Predoiu said.

Bulgaria and Romania joined the EU in 2007, but the Commission still monitors their efforts to tackle corruption and carry out reforms, and publishes regular progress reports. None of the 10 countries which joined the EU in 2004 face such scrutiny.

The EU has already frozen hundreds of millions of euro in aid funds for Bulgaria for failing to control organised crime.

The Commission praised Bulgaria for some technical steps, such as a reform of prosecution of serious crimes, and said Romania deserved praise for adopting new criminal and civil codes and launching a new anti-corruption body.

© 2009 Reuters

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Could the E.U. Lose Bulgaria to Russia?

Time – As Bulgaria’s incoming Prime Minister, Boyko Borisov can assume copious congratulations when he takes up the reins of government on July 23. Less welcome, however, is what he received on the eve of his investiture: a report effectively designating Bulgaria the most corrupt and crime-ridden member of the European Union. And for good measure, it warned that Bulgaria, already the E.U.’s poorest member state, could slip under the sway of Russia if it fails to turn itself around.

According to the European Commission, Borisov will inherit a country where mobsters murder with impunity and where fraud and corruption have seeped deep into the political and legal establishment. “Killings linked with organized crime continue, and known criminals are not apprehended,” the commission says in its report, released on July 21. (Read “Brussels Beats Up On Bulgaria.”)

The report calls for a full redraft of the country’s penal code, special units to combat corruption and organized crime and constitutional amendments guaranteeing an independent judicial system. “Although indications of fraud and corruption (including collusion with organized crime) are abundant in the public domain, law-enforcement agencies seem reluctant to take the initiative to start an investigation,” it says. “What is still missing is sufficient political commitment for broader initiatives which could form a more decisive, strategic approach.”

The political drift could have other consequences. Another report, by a panel of E.U. experts advising the Bulgarian government, says Bulgaria is spinning out of Brussels’ orbit. As yet unpublished, the report by the International Advisory Board for Bulgaria says Russia could regain its historic hold on the country if political forces and civil society fail to spell out a strong European agenda. It warns that Bulgaria, which depends on Russia for 92% of its gas supplies, is uniquely vulnerable to Moscow. (Read “How One Man Plans to Sink the European Union.”)

The six-member board, chaired by former French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, says that without strategic direction and clear priorities on issues like security and energy, the Bulgarian state could face populist revolts. And that instability “could undo the ties between the E.U. and Bulgaria, prompting a shift toward Russian political and economic interests.”

The two reports paint a portrait of a country stuck at the bottom of the class just 2½ years after it joined the E.U. Bulgaria’s lack of progress is all the more glaring given the initial assumptions, in both Brussels and Sofia, that E.U. accession would lock in the reform process, pulling Bulgaria into the European mainstream. But the country is still plagued by corruption, gangland violence and feeble law enforcement. The system’s failings were all too visible earlier this month, when two men indicted for running a criminal mob involved in racketeering and extortion were freed on bail to run as candidates in the parliamentary elections.

“We are deeply concerned,” says Jana Mittermaier, who heads the Brussels office of anti-corruption group Transparency International. She says Bulgaria has long been saddled with a non-functioning judiciary and a lack of political will to fight corruption. “We hope that the new government will be able to take the signal from Brussels to radically change the system,” she adds. “It needs to start cleaning things up so that serious sentences can be enforced against corruption and organized crime.”(Read “Europe Tries to Break Its Russian Gas Habit.”)

For the European Commission, Bulgaria’s languid efforts to clamp down on graft and crime are especially dispiriting. Although the commission’s report points to piecemeal progress by the authorities, it effectively acknowledges that the carrot of E.U. accession has failed to deliver the promised results: while the scent of membership prompted loud reformist rhetoric, the momentum slipped once Bulgaria joined.

And the stick of sanctions over the past year hasn’t worked either. Last November, the commission stripped Bulgaria of $310 million in funds for failing to tackle corruption; the move had a barely discernible effect on reforms. E.U. officials have also grumbled that Bulgaria’s yawning failures have undermined the E.U.’s own credibility as an authority to lay down the law on wayward members.

Fighting crime was Borisov’s winning campaign theme, and the Prime Minister–elect has vowed to end corruption, saying he will imprison anyone involved in embezzling funds. But as a former bodyguard with a black belt in karate, Borisov will have to use all his fighting skills if he is to defeat Bulgaria’s demons and keep the country in Europe’s fold.

Bulgaria New PM Borisov Sacks 4 Ministries, Adds 2 in GERB Cabinet

Novinite – Bulgaria’s incoming Prime Minister, Boyko Borisov, who formally presented Thursday the Ministers in his new cabinet, has changed the structure of the Bulgarian government.

Borisov has removed four of the Ministries in the Stanishev government of the three-way coalition.

In his new cabinet does not include a Ministry of State Administration (headed by Nikolay Vasilev in the Stanishev government), and a Ministry of Emergency Situations (formerly headed by Emel Etem).

Borisov has also sacked the positions of Ministers in charge of EU Affairs (formerly headed by Gergana Passy), and of the Deputy Minister in charge of the absorption of EU funds (headed by the special Deputy PM Meglena Plugchieva in the Stanishev government. 1

However, the GERB leader and new PM, Boyko Borisov, has created a brand-new Ministry of Sports out of the State Youth and Sports Agency, which will be headed by Svilen Neykov, a long-time Bulgarian rowing champion and coach, and husband of Bulgaria’s 2008 Beijing Olympics golds medalist Rumyana Neykova.

Borisov has also created the position of a Minister without a portfolio to be occupied by the Director of the Bulgarian National History Museum Bozhidar Dimitrov; Dimitrov is going to be responsible for the Bulgarians abroad.

In addition, Borisov has restructured the former Ministry of Economy and Energy to include the former State Tourism Agency.

Thus, the new structure is the Ministry of Economy, Energy, and Tourism. It will be headed by Traycho Traykov, who is the big surprise in the list of Ministers announced by Borisov on Thursday.

Incoming PM Boyko Borisov Picks 16 Ministers for New Bulgarian Government

Novinite – Boyko Borisov, leader of the GERB party and future Prime Minister of Bulgaria, announced Thursday the names of the Ministers in the new Bulgarian government.

At a special ceremony at the Bulgarian Presidency, Borisov handed back to President Georgi Parvanov the mandate to appoint new cabinet that he received on July 16.

The new Bulgarian government consists of 15 Ministers. Former senior World Bank economist Simeon Djankov is the new Minister of Finance;

the GERB party Chair Tsvetan Tsvetanov is the new Interior Minister;

Sofia Deputy Mayor Yordanka Fandakova is becoming Minister of Education.

The biggest surprise in the new government is Traycho Traykov, procurist of EVN electricity distribution company, who will head the Ministry of Economy, Energy, and Tourism.

Sculptor Vezhdi Rashidov will be the Minister of Culture, former MEP Nikolay Mladenov – Defense Minister, and prosecutor Margarita Popova – Justice Minister.

MEP Rumiana Jeleva is taking over the Foreign Ministry, and the Mayor of the city of Vratsa Totyu Mladenov – the Social and Labor Ministry.

Bozhidar Nanev, GERB MP and surgeon at Varna University Hospital will be in charge of the Health Ministry.

Construction businessman Rosen Plevneliev will be Regional Development Minister.

Environment consultant Nona Karadzhova is expected to be the next Environment Minister.

Alexander Tsvetkov, currently Deputy Mayor of the capital Sofia, will be the new Transport Minister.

Miroslav Naydenov is taking over the Agriculture Ministry, after MP Dessislava Taneva withdrew her nomination in the last minute.

Bozhidar Dimitrov, the director of Bulgaria’s National History Museum is going to be Minister without a portfolio in charge of the Bulgarian citizens abroad.

Svilen Neykov, Bulgarian rowing champion and coach and husband of Bulgarian Beijing Olympics gold medalist Rumyana Neykova, will be in charge of the newly created Sports Ministry.

The GERB party, which won 40% of the votes in the Bulgarian Parliamentary Elections on July 5, will run a minority government to tackle corruption and the economic crisis. It has 116 MPs in the 240-seat Parliamentary. GERB defeated the Socialist Party of former Prime Minister Sergey Stanishev, which got only 18% of the votes.

Three other smaller right-wing Bulgarian parties – the nationalist “Ataka” party of Volen Siderov (21 MP seats), the rightist Blue Coalition of Ivan Kostov and Martin Dimitrov (15 MPs), and the conservative RZS (“Order, Law, Justice”) party of Yane Yanev (10 MPs) – have made it clear they would support the minority government of GERB without receiving ministerial seats on the condition that it works for certain national priorities, most notably fighting corruption and leading Bulgaria out of the economic crisis.

Borisov’s GERB government will be Bulgaria’s second minority cabinet since 1989 after the one, headed by Filip Dimitrov (1991-1992).

Suicide Bombers according to B.C.

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EU funds corruption in Bulgaria.

With elections held in Bulgaria, bribe rates for EU projects have risen levels high above imaginable, businessmen complained. “Experts from the Ministry of Economy asked for a fee of 60% from the subsidy to let our high-tech company compete in a tender for money from Brussels,” Mladen Mutafchiiski said. Mr Mutafchiiski is a member of the board of directors in Media Systems company in Stara Zagora. The company presented a project for technical modernization to be financed on Competitiveness operation programme. “Through a third party we were told that we have to pay BGN 600,000 commission if we want to receive the million,” Mutafchiiski said. After it was clear the state employees had no chance whatsoever to receive the money, the company was simply thrown out of the contest.

Source: Standart

The Ultimate Guide to Vote Buying in Bulgarian Elections: 5 Easy Steps

Prerequisites: Favorable Vote Buying Situation

A few preconditions generally need to be in place for vote buying to work well. You need a society, preferably one that has recently emerged from a democratic transition, and where democracy still hasn’t taken strong enough roots. Also, you need a great disillusionment and deep disappointment with the promised benefits of the democratic system of government leading to far-reaching cynicism about elections, parties, and democracy among the general population.

A good deal of marginalized groups – impoverished people, ethnic and religious minorities, rural population, uneducated layers of society – would also come in handy. This bouquet should also be spiced up with a weak civil society, and, last but not least – a whole bunch of nice political parties and businessmen connected with them, who enjoy shopping… for votes.

(Oftentimes those would be able to kill two birds with one stone – launder money by paying for votes – so this would make the whole exercise even more exciting.) Finally, don’t forget: the lower the voter turnout, the better.

Step 1. You need a political party and some cash (at least pretend to have them)

Three journalists from the 24 Chasa (“24 Hours”) Daily, one of the major newspapers in Bulgaria, recently decided to go undercover and demonstrate that vote buying is well under way several days before the elections despite the much publicized campaign against it.

The three of them rented a nice Mercedes, and pretended to be a candidate and his political activists from the KPGP “Zname” (“Flag”) political party; they prepared some campaign materials and badges. The Bulgarian abbreviation for KPGP came from the expression “Buying and Selling of Votes Is a Crime”, which is the official motto of the fight against vote-buying repeated over and over in the campaign messages of the Bulgarian political parties.

The journalists also picked “24” as the number of the ballot for their party in the coming Bulgarian Parliamentary elections on July 5, the trick here being that only 20 parties are registered to run in the elections.

Step 2. Get in contact with the likely vote vendors and traders

The three undercover journalists wanted to make a point rather than explore all the aspects of vote buying in Bulgaria. So led by the undercover majority candidate Mariyan Popov (journalist Milen Petrov), the three headed for the Stolipinovo Quarter in the southern city of Plovdiv – a Roma quarter of 40 000 people.

“It is elementary, very simple. The whole thing took three hours. Once you go to the spot you need to get in touch with the respective leader (trader), and it is really easy to find him”, journalist Milen Petrov told Novinite.com.

Basically, the three KPGP party activists got off the car somewhere in Stolipinovo, and asked the locals, “Who is the boss around here?” making it clear that they are from the KPGP party registered under No. 24.

The “boss” arrived pretty shortly – a stereotypically looking business for this kind of neighborhoods – black trousers, golden chain and rings, moustache, according to the published description. The two sides figured out within a matter of seconds what the each party wanted.

“The system works in the following way: a political party sends its people to the respective quarters, and they figure who is the person (or people) there who would get the job done”, Petrov explains. After that – let the negotiations begin.

Step 3. Striking a vote buying deal

The undercover journalists and the local boss headed to his “office” – a back room in a local groceries store – in order to hammer out the details for the deal. After short haggling, they got 500 votes for their candidate, “Mariyan Popov”, for the price of BGN 30 per vote; plus an additional fee for the trader – the local “boss”.

According to Milen Petrov, how much the trader would get depends on their level in the whole vote buying chain, and the number of votes they could provide. Our guess is – at least a few thousand BGN.

“They did not care what party we are from at all, they didn’t even ask. The trader did not figure out it was a fake party. The people didn’t ask us what it stood for – it could well have been a neo-Nazi party preparing a Roma Holocaust – they didn’t care”, Petrov told Novinite.com.

The other main thing here is that the client should never be worried that they won’t get the votes they paid for. Once the deal is made, the boss, who is responsible for his people, would send envoys to them the night before the elections in order to explain which ballot paper they are supposed to cast.

The bosses could control a whole polling station. They would work with a list of the voters in each station, and they would have people among the “observers” or “advocates” that are part of the station’s electoral commission. The buyer would pay half of the price in advance, and the other half – after the results are clear. The bosses would have helpers – people who are responsible for 50, 20, or as few as 10 people.

So however illegal or immoral vote buying could be in Bulgaria, it actually seems to be a very honest business – the clients gets what they paid for. In our case, the 24 Chasa journalists managed to buy 500 votes in less than three hours, and got a promise for potentially 500 more votes depending on the deals with other political parties that were already well under way.

Step 4. Sit back and Enjoy (Parliament, Cabinet, EU Funds…)

Basically, there you have it. 500 votes here, 1 000 votes there and bammmm… Say you are a minor party with some backing by some businessmen or whoever. Ideally, you could get some 10-20 MPs, have a Parliamentary Group of your own; maybe join the governing coalition, if you are lucky.

Thus, you get to participate in crafting legislation, have appointments in the executive, have a say in the distribution of the public funds, including the money of the good people of the EU.

If you are a major political party, which usually has a lot of voters of its own (still voting for their convictions, those people just crack us up, don’t they…), then the “bought” votes could aid you get a parliamentary majority and help you form a government – with lots of cash (actually, not even that much cash), the right math, and a bit of luck.

Step 5 (Optional): Don’t Wonder Why

The readers of Novinite.com probably still wonder why eligible voters would want to sell their right to choose who governs them. Why would they trade their greatest power, the right for which millions of people have died in the past, and continue dying for it around the globe?

Journalist Milen Petrov paints a very bleak picture of the conditions under which the people in the Stolipinovo Quarter live. Their poverty is absolutely striking so it is perhaps understandable that they would try to make BGN 30, and that they would have no idea about democracy, parties, elections…

In another destitute Roma Quarter in Plovdiv, Sheker Mahala, Petrov’s team managed to get 100 votes for BGN 10 per vote, promised by a local guy that did not look anything like the previous “boss”. The KPGP party activists even managed to get the locals excited about their non-existing party with the sheer promise of a few BGN…

Petrov says that the Roma Quarters are the most visible examples of vote-buying but he thinks that this phenomenon is hardly limited to them only. He claims that those people have lost any hope that their situation might improve through elections and government actions. But this seems to be a Catch 22 situation since vote buying is only likely to perpetuate it.

“There are two types of people who sell their votes. These can be socially excluded people, who are not motivated to do anything, who are poor or from a minority group. The others are those who have a good job, incomes and education, but are so cynical about Bulgaria’s political life that they are more than ready to sell their vote”, Teodor Dechev, Deputy Chair of the Union for Private Economic Enterprise, told Novinite.com in an interview.

The UPEE recently announced awards of up to BGN 10 000 for any information and evidence about vote buying in Bulgaria. The rationale of its businessmen who donated money for the awards was that it would be better to spend a few thousand BGN in order to try to spoil all the vote buying fun than risk having billions of EUR from the EU funds being embezzled by persons who have been elected through such unfair practices.

During Bulgaria’s European Parliament Elections on June 7, the UPEE received more than 200 signals about vote buying. Yet, people were very scared and would speak only on the condition of anonymity. Even though the UPEE handed out a couple of BGN 4 000 prizes, Dechev believes they would hardly get the chance to award the big prize of BGN 10 000 because of the large publicity it would involve.

He believes that the cure for Bulgaria’s vote buying disease is very simple – high voter turnout. “Estimates show that the controlled votes accounted for about 15% of all votes cast in the European Parliamentary Elections. The damage that buying votes does will be cushioned quickly should election turnout increase by at least 20%,” he told Novinite.com.

Dechev points to the recent introduction of elements of a majority electoral system as a Bulgarian example of unfair gerrymandering which also stimulates the using of the controlled vote.

Dechev is positive that “vote buying and selling is a crime, but when a party undermines the democratic foundations of the country, this is called treason. This happens at a time, when Bulgaria has gained the infamous popularity of the most corrupt country in Europe and there is talk of triggering a safeguard clause.”

One should not forget that vote-buying is just one aspect of the so called “controlled vote”. There is also the so called “corporate vote” even though this term probably doesn’t sound right in English because in Bulgaria it means that a large-scale employer forces their workers in one way or another to vote for a certain party.

To sum it all up, vote buying in Bulgaria is easy. The cool thing is that the Bulgarian police and the whole bunch of other institutions could have done what Milen Petrov and his 24 Chasa team did, and bust a number of vote traders. And vote buyers for that matter.

After all, the only precautions that the vote trader in Milen Petrov’s case took was saying, “This is forbidden in principle now”, and taking the undercover journalists to his secret “office” to strike the deal.

The truth is the police and prosecution don’t even need to do that – at the local level, the local police pretty much must know who sells what and for how much – no one can convince me of the opposite.

So there seems to be a lot that is rotten in the state of Bulgaria. Except – instead of “To vote or not to vote?”, the Hamlet question in our case sounds more like, “To sell my vote or not to sell it?” A lot of people in Bulgaria don’t even ask the question, they just do it.

As excited as you might have gotten by this article about vote buying in Bulgaria, please do not try this in your home country.

novinite.com