{"title": "CRISIS FUNDING BOOSTS CORRUPTION IN BULGARIA","content": "
Economic stimulus programmes in Bulgaria using state and EU funding are helping to fuel corruption, undermining the country's chances of avoiding a recession, a new study suggested Wednesday. 'Increased capital investment by the government is leading to increased pressure of corruption in public tenders,' the Centre for the Study of Democracy, a think tank in Sofia, said in its 'Crime Without Punishment' study. That meant money originally intended to help the economy could be misappropriated, which in turn meant 'Bulgaria may not be able to avoid recession', wrote analyst Ruslan Stefanov, author of the report.According to the think tank's annual survey, fewer and fewer companies are willing to take part in public tenders, because they feel that corrupt officials have singled out the winners in advance. 'Only 17,000, or less than 10 percent of all eligible companies, bid for government contracts in 2008. That translates into roughly one candidate per tender, so the winner is practically known in advance,' Stefanov said.The analyst predicted that companies close to power could increase their hold over the economy even further this year if they manage to monopolise the tenders for public contracts offered as part of economic stimulus programmes. Sofia has pledged to increase public spending on infrastructure and public works in 2009 to counter the risk of recession in the economy. European road, regional development and farming subsidies are seen by the government as another key instrument to help offset the effects of the crisis. But the think tank warned that money could equally be 'captured by a few oligarchic elites with political connections.'Fraud and misappropriation concerns already prompted Brussels to strip Bulgaria of a total of 220 million euros and freeze over 600 million euros more last year. The think tank noted that no major high-ranking politician or government official has been sentenced for corruption so far, further undermining Bulgarians' confidence in politicians.
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