RECESSION IS LIKELY TO BOOST CORRUPTION IN BULGARIA Reuters - 2009/1/28
The global economic slowdown is likely to boost corruption in Bulgaria with companies seeking more deals in public procurement as foreign cash dries up, an independent anti-graft organisation said on Wednesday. Corrupt deals in public procurement and land sales continue to cost the Balkan country some 1.5 billion levs ($1.02 billion) a year, according to an annual survey of the respected Centre for the Study of Democracy (CSD). "We expect a surge in deals in public procurement as the recession hits the country this year, which will also lead to a surge in corruption pressure," Ruslan Stefanov, a researcher with the CSD, told a forum at which the survey was presented. "That is why real reforms are needed now," he said.
The European Union has stripped Bulgaria of 220 million euros in EU aid and threatens to impose more sanctions if Sofia fails to show results in its fight against corruption and organised crime. The CSD said that in times of a global credit crunch, fresh funds would come from the state budget and EU aid but added corruption could deprive businesses of access to these funds. Economic growth is expected to slow below 2 percent this year from over 6 percent annually in the past 4-5 years as foreign investors flee emerging markets and Bulgaria's main exports market, Western Europe, has plunged into a recession.
U.S. ambassador to Sofia Nancy McEldowney told the forum that Bulgaria was still not doing enough to punish corrupt officials and judges as well as crime bosses. "Bulgarians are still waiting for a ground-breaking conviction of a major organised crime figure," she said. "Bulgarians are still waiting to see a shattering of ties between shady businessmen and politicians and for a politician who has abused public trust to spend time in jail."
Despite numerous pledges to speed up reforms and produce results, Bulgaria has failed to convict a single senior official of corruption and has jailed only one crime boss. Observers and diplomats say the root of the problem lies in links between politicians, magistrates and criminal groups, some of which sprang out of the communist-era secret police.
The EU's executive Commission will publish a report on Bulgaria's progress in judicial reforms in February.
Author: Tsvetelia Ilieva