The first structural change in the Bulgarian government has become a fact. Prime Minister Boiko Borisov, leader of the GERB (Citizens for the European Development of Bulgaria) party, announced the change on March 18. It entails the creation of a ministerial post for management of European Union funds. Why was the change necessary?
The current structural modification in the administration is fueled by a greater need for financial control. The finance minister, Simeon Djankov, has been working hard on reforms to balance the budget. Several anti-mafia police operations under the Interior Minister, Tzvetan Tzvetanov, have also shown willingness to fight corruption. These factors have brought a lot of good-will from the European Union, and previously blocked structural fund money was released on several programs, including Transport, Competition and Regional Development earlier this year.
Since the general election in July 2009, Bulgaria has used a government council, with the finance minister chairing, to manage the structural fund money. Yet, the government has admitted its incompetence on effectively distributing the EU’s money by electing Tomislav Dontchev for the new post. The move can be considered from two viewpoints – better management and anti-corruption measures.
It is a fact that Bulgaria has so far had a lot of trouble administering the EU structural funds. One of the main (and mostly mute) reasons behind it is that the country lacks expertise in such tasks. After all, the European aid is a co-financing exercise, which requires government financing to complement the structural funds. This means that, if a project is considered viable for financing, part of it will be funded from the EU and the rest from the state budget. Many such initiatives have failed because of the administration’s inability to find the means for the latter. A cabinet of experts would assist the management of this problem.
It is also a fact that OLAF (the EU’s auditing body) has found discrepancies in the accounting of several projects financed by the Union. One recent example is the installation of filters on Maritza Iztok 2, a lignite-fired thermal power station in central Bulgaria, where several administrative inconsistencies were found. If the country is to avoid such embarrassing situations, the new minister for management of EU funds will have to focus on making sure that corruption is removed from the equation.
It should be noted that since the GERB party won a near-majority in the Bulgarian elections in July 2009, it promised government financial cutbacks, a re-structuring of the administration and a cracking down on corruption. Mr. Djankov, has since become a media favorite due to his constant attempts to balance the budget through eliminating redundant administrative units and demanding that citizens pay their taxes and contributions to the government. So far, he has been relatively successful.
The re-structuring of the administration began from day one. One of the major changes was the closing down of the Ministry of Emergency Situations and transferring a part of its staff to the Interior Ministry. The main, yet unofficial, reason behind the decision was that it was a financial black-hole. It seems that many similar decisions have been made for the same reason, which was rather unpopular among government employees who were to be laid-off, but largely supported by the general public. The logic used by Mr. Borisov’s government is that the bigger the government, the more inefficient it is and the more chances there are for corruption.
Yet, this logic had now been disrupted the creation of a new ministry. Whether the structural change will have a positive effect remains to be seen, but the reasons behind its establishment show that it is essential to the financial development of the country. The new minister, Mr. Dontchev, is an optimist with a realistic outlook, who stated that even if he does not sleep, Bulgaria cannot assimilate 100% of EU funds. He also stated, that it is his job to make his post obsolete, which one does not often hear from government employees.
For Bulgarians, this is a welcome move towards the country’s development. What the future holds in store for Mr. Dontchev will be an interesting media topic. The majority of the population has so far supported Boiko Borisov’s reforms and they should trust him on this issue as well. From then on, they can only hope for the best.