Report highlights lack of political will to fight corruption in Bulgaria ALL - 2009/2/3
SETimes.com

Efforts to root out organised crime and corruption in Bulgaria have slowed in the past two years, a Sofia-based think tank said last week.

The fight against corruption and organised crime in Bulgaria has weakened since the country's EU entry in 2007 due to lack of political will and administrative capacity, a prominent Bulgarian think tank said in a report released on Wednesday (January 28th).

The frequency of bribe-giving in Bulgaria's business sector dropped by 50% over the past two years, the Sofia-based Center for the Study of Democracy (CSD) noted in its ninth annual assessment of graft in the Balkan nation.

However, the CSD survey added, Bulgarian citizens have been facing an increasing corruption pressure in their dealings with public administration officials since 2004.

In 2008, it found, the number of corruption transactions stood at about 175,000 per month on average, or 2.1 million annually, a level similar to those observed in the dawn of the 21st century.

Last year, nearly 65% of Bulgarians saw graft as the most important social problem facing the country.

Concessions, public procurement for the allocation of state or EU funds, as well as land and forest swaps are the main channels for corrupt interactions between business and politics, the CSD said.

"Only 17,000, or less than 10% of all eligible companies, bid for government contracts in 2008," Ruslan Stefanov, the author of the paper, said at a roundtable in Sofia. "That translates into roughly one candidate per tender, so the winner is practically known in advance."

Public procurement misappropriations in the last two years cost Bulgaria up to 800m euros annually.

According to the CSD, the political morality and responsibility needed to counter such forms of corruption are missing, while oligarchy-style organised crime is clearly tolerated. Oligarchic cliques have been allowed to take control over entire sectors of the economy and to use public resources to the benefit of political parties or individuals, it found.

Politicians have attempted to stifle criticism by gaining effective control over NGOs, the report said. Slightly over two-thirds of Bulgarian lawmakers, a similar proportion of the cabinet ministers and heads of executive agencies, and more than 90% of municipal mayors are represented on NGO boards of directors.

"Numerous other influential civil servants and members of political cabinets participate in NGOs operating in their respective fields of competence," the report said. "Those NGOs offer paid training, receive state funding and exert policy influence," but provide little information about their activities and shed no light about their political ties.

Political corruption and organised crime remain largely unpunished, the CSD stressed. No high-ranking government official, politician or magistrate has been sentenced on such charges in Bulgaria so far.

Furthermore, the paper said, the number of indictments filed in courts against those linked to organised crime and corruption dropped by more than 30% over the past three years. Almost 80% of the corruption investigations initiated between 2004 and 2007 were suspended or terminated at the pre-trial phase.

Of those cases that did make it to court, 7% ended in a plea-bargain and another 32% ended without a conviction.

"Recent legislative and institutional reforms in the judiciary and law enforcement have not led to the expected and hoped for reduction in impunity for corrupt practices and organised crime," the CSD concluded in the report, entitled "Crime Without Punishment".

"The price for the lack of transparency in governance and for political corruption will become more and more conspicuous and painful for Bulgarian society with the sharp decline in the economic growth in 2009," it said.

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