On February 11, 2003, Coalition 2000 held its Fifth Anti-Corruption Policy Forum. The Forum, organized annually by Coalition 2000, is a high profile public event for anti-corruption initiatives, supporting the efforts of the civil society and public institutions in the fight against corruption. The main purpose of the Fifth Forum was to discuss the Corruption Assessment Report 2002.
More than 150 representatives of all institutions involved in the fight against corruption including government agencies, non-governmental organizations, the business and the media took part in the Forum.
Opening the Forum discussion, Dr. Ognian Shentov, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Center for the Study of Democracy, pointed out that the major objective of the Forum was to endorse the Corruption Assessment Report 2002, created with input from a number of representatives of state institutions and leading figures in the business community and civil society and to enlist support and demonstrate commitment on the part of the representatives of state institutions and senior government officials to the joint anti-corruption efforts.
Mr. Anton Stankov, Bulgarian Minister of Justice, and Ms. Debra McFarland, Director of the US Agency for International Development in Sofia, addressed the Forum participants.
In his statement Mr. Stankov paid special attention to the work of the governmental Anticorruption Commission established in early 2002. He underlined that the primary focus of the activity of the commission was on those very corrupt practices that impaired the mechanisms of statehood, undermined national security, and served for the purpose of criminal redistribution of the national wealth. "As regards the tackling of these problems and meeting the expectations of Bulgarian society, parliament is still falling behind", Mr. Stankov said, referring to the delay of the ombudsman law, a figure, which has the potential to play an important role in the exercise of civic control and to facilitate the work of both the government commission and the specialized anti-corruption units.
Mr. Stankov gave a positive assessment to the Policy Forum as an acknowledgement, both on the part of the government institutions and of the civil society, for the need for ongoing constructive partnership in the efforts to crack down on corruption and to foster a new, modern civic awareness that rejects the corruption model and upholds the rule of law.
Ms. Debra McFarland stressed that the US Agency for International Development was particularly pleased to assist the Government of Bulgaria in its firm commitment to fighting corruption in the interests of democracy and economic development and in its efforts to advance its ambitious National Anti-Corruption Strategy and Action Plan. An expression of this support was the launch of the Open Government Initiative between the governments of the USA and Bulgaria, which included such critical areas as audit and public procurement, as well as promoting and monitoring governmental accountability and public awareness of corruption. The annual Corruption Assessment Report 2002 of Coalition 2000 is the most substantive analytical paper on this subject today, Ms. McFarland pointed out. It reviews critical areas of corruption and identifies concrete steps to be takes in order to fix the problem, she concluded.
Dr. Maria Yordanova, Director of the Legal Program of the Center for the Study of Democracy, outlined the main findings and recommendations of the Corruption Assessment Report 2002. A favorable evaluation was given in the CAR to the development of the legal anti-corruption instruments and particularly the amendments to the Penal Code with a direct bearing on the prevention and punishment of corruption in line with international standards. Yet, a need to improve the procedural mechanisms and enhance the law-enforcement capacity in this sphere still existed. Emerging with particular urgency are the problems of the judicial reform considered in the context of the debatable practical dimensions of the reform in 2002, as well as the persistent negative attitudes on the part of different social groups to the basic units of the judiciary and the magistrates and officials working there. The lack of a comprehensive conception of the reform of the structure and management of the judiciary, and most notably, of consensus between the different branches of power and between the individual units of the judiciary itself, as well as the absence of agreement on the long-term priorities of the reform lead to fragmentation of the problems, inconsistency, and even obstruction, of the efforts to implement the reform.
The evaluation of anti-corruption efforts in the economy in 2002 does acknowledge the numerous anti-corruption initiatives, including more transparent procedures, but it also notes their minor practical impact. On the whole, the regulatory intervention of the administration in the economy remains inconsistent and non-transparent, which sustains the persistently high share of the gray sector and the related corruption. The analysis considers the spheres most susceptible to corruption, which need to be closely monitored in the future: the spending of budget funds and funding under European Union funds; concessions and the implementation of large-scale infrastructural projects; the remaining privatization deals; municipal finances; public procurement; competition policy; the financing of political parties and organizations.
The report considers the role of anti-corruption public-private partnership and particularly of the intensified civic control not only at the stage of anti-corruption goal formulation, but also of the actual activity of the respective state institutions. The analysis duly acknowledges the role of the media and of investigative reporting in terms of exposing corruption, but also in drawing public attention to the all too limited impact of a number of anti-corruption initiatives.
The report states that for yet another consecutive year Bulgaria has improved its indicators in the Transparency International ranking. In fact, while it held the 66th place in 1998, in 2002 it was ranked 45th out of 102 countries, overtaking the Czech Republic, Latvia, and others. Yet, the findings under the other international anti-corruption monitoring mechanisms, such as the annual reports of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, of the European Commission, and GRECO (Group of States Against Corruption) point to the persistence of the corruption-generating factors in this country.
Bulgaria's anti-corruption efforts have enjoyed considerable international support and the country has fulfilled a number of its international commitments related to the fight against corruption, reads the report of Coalition 2000.
Professor Georgi Petkanov, Minister of Internal Affairs of Bulgaria, familiarized the forum participants with the anti-corruption program of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. In 2002 the services of the Ministry of Internal Affairs exposed 1903 cases of criminal breach of trust and 63 cases of bribery. Breach of trust crimes ranked third by relative share in economic crimes, amounting to 13.4%, and were commonly associated with corruption, whereas bribes made up an insignificant relative share - merely 0.5% of these crimes. Despite the measures taken, countering corruption was still problematical. Acts of corruption were becoming ever more closely associated with organized crime and economic crimes. The attempts of organized criminal groups to establish contact with officials from government bodies and the local administration persisted. So did their efforts to conquer new permanent positions in legitimate business and to take part in privatization. These operations of organized crime took place mainly by way of corrupting the officials authorized to issue the respective licenses and permits.
Mr. Vladislav Slavov, Chairman of the Supreme Administrative Court, joined to the appraisal of the importance of the public-private cooperation in countering corruption, expressed during the Fifth Anti-Corruption Policy Forum. He noted that the Corruption Assessment Report highlighted for the first time the need to enhance the legislative process as a whole, the need for capacity-building efforts in this sphere, because all too often the poor quality of the legislation, the non-compliance of by-laws and regulations with the provisions of the very laws that necessitate their adoption, as well as the use of the tacit rejection principle, were leaving more room for subjective judgment, which in turn was conducive to corruption. Mr. Slavov supported one of the chief criticisms advanced in the report regarding the operation of the judiciary - the lack of a good statistical system to help keep track of the performance of each of the bodies of the judiciary and the executive alike in the fight against corruption.
Mr. Slavov paid special attention to the positive effect of the legal information system elaborated and adopted by the Supreme Administrative Court, which allows that each case be followed from the very filing of the complaint to the final ruling.
Mr. Slavov also declared his support to the Law on the Judiciary, although some of the amendments were partly declared unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court. "The amendments to the Law on the Judiciary include many positive elements, the adoption of which would be most welcome - these are the integrated information system, the court police, the national institute for professional training of magistrates, the creation of new structures within the system or new positions such as the court assistants at the supreme courts.", Mr. Slavov said.
Ms. Ekaterina Mihailova, Deputy Chair of the Union of the Democratic Forces, shared the views of the political party she represented on the anti-corruption implications of the amendments of the Constitution, such as: amendments which to ensure a more effective and speedy administration of justice, with possibilities for control within the various units of the judicial system, as well as a revision of their status and whether they should all remain within the judiciary; limited term in office for senior positions within the judicial system; abolishing the immunity of MPs and magistrates alike, as an anti-corruption practice that is common in almost all democratic countries.
Ms. Mihailova also stated that the Union of the Democratic Forces supported the establishment of the ombudsman institution as independent anti-corruption institution in position to control the administration; the creation of an integrated information system as a means to counter corruption and fight crime; the fight against corruption practices in the legislation, i.e. the adoption of laws that do not allow the possibility for judicial control, which is in fact a corrupt practice that is being established on a legitimate basis.
In her statement Ms. Tatyana Doncheva, representative of the parliamentary group of Coalition for Bulgaria and member of the Steering Committee of Coalition 2000, stressed that the most serious cause for concern was the strong dependence of the judicial system on corporate interests and the already alarmingly frequent use of the mechanisms of the judicial system to deal with business conflicts and problems. Another major shortcoming, according to Ms. Doncheva, was the exceedingly closed nature of the judicial system, which allows the hypertrophy of flaws that existed in any judicial system, as well as the prosecution with its excessively hierarchical, centralized structure. Ms. Doncheva appealed to the political parties to unite and come to terms in order to quickly solve these urgent matters and improve the anti-corruption mechanisms.
Mr. Plamen Dimitrov, Vice President of the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions in Bulgaria (CITUB), expressed CITUB's support to the conclusions in the Corruption Assessment Report considering such widely used instruments throughout Europe, such as the protective import duties or subsidies for agricultural producers. Other critical issues, raised in the report, are the intervention of the judiciary in the privatization of Bulgartabak and the Bulgarian Telecommunication Company, which transpires political dependence and corruption, Mr. Dimitrov added. And conversely, the amendments to the Law on Privatization and Post-privatization Control, including those limiting the powers of the judiciary, are also suggestive of possible private sources of corruption. Mr. Dimitrov called the healthcare reform "particularly alarming", because the manner in which this reform had been implemented clearly presented great opportunities for corrupt practices.
On behalf of the members of the Bulgarian International Business Association (BIBA), comprising more than 200 of the largest companies in Bulgaria, Ms. Andriana Sukova-Tosheva, Executive Director of BIBA, noted that the Association devoted special attention to the conditions for business development in Bulgaria and that the findings were presented in a White Book on the business climate. One of the conclusions in the Book was that the delayed judiciary reform may prove a major stumbling block in the process of Bulgaria's preparation for accession to the European Union. Referring to the administrative reform, Ms. Tosheva said that unfortunately, last year's amendments to the law did not include provisions for tacit agreement, which would have limited the opportunities for corruption in the administration. Underlining the usefulness of the public-private dialogue, she pointed out that for the past few months there had been another forum where the government and the business associations have been discussing the problems of business - the Council for Economic Growth. The issues related to the development of the economy in Bulgaria are considered within the Council precisely from the point of view of public administration, which is an essential factor in economic development.
Ms. Nadezhda Sandolova, member of the National Audit Office, pointed out that the 2002 Corruption Assessment Report was of superior quality which was mainly due to the insightful and detailed analysis in the section on the economy. She recommended a more detailed examination of certain areas where there still appeared to lack sufficient transparency and proper control, and namely the field of concessions where non-transparency and poor management greatly intensify corruption risks.
Mr. Assen Djulgerov, Secretary of Sofia Municipality, stressed on the emerging problem with the capacity of public administration, including the judiciary, and the need for investment in staff training in relation to the assignment of new functions to the different authorities; the establishment of new structures; and the adoption of new laws. Several very relevant examples have been cited in the Corruption Assessment Report in connection with the enforceability of the laws. This is one problem, one aspect of the quality of the legislation that tends to be overlooked, Mr. Djulgerov said. "There are laws that are simply impracticable. And I can guarantee, as someone with practical experience, that they will never be fully enforced with their present provisions."
Ms. Daniela Dokovska, attorney-at-law, stated that the legislative process was a scientific form of governing society and it should build on empirical data, on in-depth study of the criminogenic factors that would serve as the basis for the development of legislation.
Mr. Radi Naidenov, Head of the Prime Minister’s Office, presented the address of the Prime Minister, Mr. Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotta to the participants in the Forum. The fight against corruption has been a priority of the government since the very beginning of its term, Mr. Naidenov pointed out. However, in order to bring the process to a successful end, it is imperative to carry out the judiciary reform. The achievements of the Bulgarian government to date have been recognized by the European Commission in its regular report on the progress made by Bulgaria towards accession to the European Union. Mr. Naidenov stressed on the importance of the broad public debate and the role of the non-governmental organizations and of Coalition 2000 for raising public intolerance towards corruption. "The moral conduct of a given politician or public official is very important, it is just as important that each citizen refuses to tolerate corrupt practices and interrelations. Only then will the measures, taken by the government, produce the desired impact", Mr. Naidenov concluded.