Todor Yalamov on whether the Conflict of Interests Act is applied Focus - 2009/6/24
Todor Yalamov, expert at the Center for the Study of Democracy
Host: We keep on talking about the issue, which is not directly relevant to the election, but has something in common with it – the Conflict of Interests Act. It’s an act that Brussels forced us to pass, it’s an achievement we presented to Brussels but it’s also as act, around which the ascertainments that nobody had an interest to give results before the election gather. Good morning to Todor Yalamov, expert at the Center for the Study of Democracy!
Todor Yalamov: Good morning to you and your audience!
Host: Mr. Yalamov, you have worked on these problems for a long time and it’s almost for sure that you have come upon the funny metaphor that if modern states are governed by rules and acts, Bulgaria is being governed through collateral branch. Half a year after the enforcement, with all the further prolongations, we remember, is the act applied now?
Todor Yalamov: It is being applied. There are several lawsuits in small towns mainly, where representatives of the opposition have presented statements, there are already decisions with strange logics – not very consistent from decision to decision, but that is how matters stand with every act. Furthermore, many authorities are still thinking that their management strategy has nothing in common with the Conflict of Interests Act.
Host: We remember that the act appeared as a result of the saga, which we know under the code name “Batko and Bratko affair”. Headline of central daily newspaper read yesterday that the lawsuit against Batko (Veselin Georgiev) is becoming groundless because, according to the defence-lawyer, the money under the fund are already blocked so further considering of the lawsuit is of no use. Does it mean in some way that there is no use of the act?
Todor Yalamov: First of all, it’s a natural reaction of every lawyer to try to save the client or to cut the sentence. In long-term period the act makes sense because it sets serious hindrances for such things that have happened so far – something like the “Batko and Bratko affair” to happen in the same way.
Host: Do you really think that it’s a hindrance now, in view of the argument “So what, our children, relatives and friends not to work, right?” which is still used. Recent example comes from the judicial system. A month ago we were engaged in the plot of appointing children of high magistrates. Non-governmental organizations are now appealing to the Supreme Judicial Court to appoint a chair of the Sofia City Court by more transparent procedure, which not to allow a conflict of interests.
Todor Yalamov: It is difficult but we have to make efforts so this way of fight against the corruption, the political corruption in particular, to be realized. When high-ranking officers are imposed sanctions even if it’s a fine at the beginning, it will have positive effect later.
Host: As you mentioned high-ranking officers, the simplest example, because you appealed for more examples, is that a Deputy Minister is being investigated over conflict of interests, the head of the inspectorate at the Council of Ministers announced the other day. The results of the investigation will become clear within two months when the man in question won’t be a deputy minister anymore. In that sense, you started with examples from municipalities and small towns, as the act is drafted and applied in such a way, does it provide a chance a high-ranking officer to be sanctioned during his term of office?
Todor Yalamov: It provides an opportunity but political will is also necessary. Apparently the present government has no political will. The inspectorate at the Council of Ministers might have been activated when the act was passed, before the enforcement so as the inspectorate to get ready and part of the checks to be ready in advance in view of the fact that large part of the information in the inspectorate is already known.
Host: Yes and it could hardly surprise us.
Todor Yalamov: So there should be a political responsibility at least and I hope that the responsibility will be assumed. So, at the election, the voters will punish the parties, which used to defend the lack of necessity of such an act as well as the delay of the act by non-voting. The act will probably reduce the results of the parties by 2-5%. That is enough.
Host: In the end, would you tell us in brief, what does your observation show – do the foreign companies find the loopholes in reference to the conflict of interest quickly at a time of crisis?
Todor Yalamov: The foreign companies, of course, will always try to run their business as much as the local rules and the regulations in their states allow. Usually, there is a difference in their behavior in a state as Bulgaria, depending on the state they come from. If they come from relatively corrupted environment in Europe, they’ll be more corrupted. What is interesting here is that Bulgarian companies with no experience win public tenders and foreign companies, even coming from comparatively more corrupted environment, do not manage to get orders.
Host: Is it difficult for them to make they way?
Todor Yalamov: Yes.
Host: Thank you, we’ll keep an eye on how and when the Conflict of Interest Act will finally start working efficiently because we have to remember again and again that the act is not for ascertaining and imposing of sanctions but is also for prevention.