Wednesday

24th Jan 2018

Opinion

Bulgaria is on the right way to fight corruption

I read with interest the comment published in EUobserver by Julian Popov "EU is idle onlooker to Bulgarian sleaze" (28 August). I disagree with the view of the author, who writes from London, that corruption and institutional incompetence are on the rise in Bulgaria and that the Bulgarians do not believe that the situation can improve.

I also cannot accept the statement that the European Commission cannot do much in this respect. On the contrary, the EU institutions have contributed a lot to the transformation of Bulgaria, including in the area of justice and home affairs.

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As a journalist writing for Standart Daily in Sofia I am, as my colleagues, critical towards the authorities from whom the Bulgarian society expects more. I think however that it would be fair to mark the latest positive developments, something that has escaped from the attention of Western media.

For the first time in its difficult transition, Bulgaria will see a number of high officials appearing in court and probably being sentenced to years of imprisonment. The move may look designed to appease Brussels ahead of its crucial report, to be made public on September 26. But the real reason for these developments taking place now is the arrival in office last February of a new chief prosecutor - Mr. Boris Velchev, former counsellor to president Georgi Parvanov.

Seven lost years

His predecessor Nikola Filchev was a total failure, he was suspected of mental problems and even complicity with the mob. This may not be proven, but in any case his style, adopted by many other high prosecutors, have caused great harm to Bulgaria and its image. The procedure for having the prosecutor general replaced being too complex, the whole country had to wait until the expiration of his seven-year term.

Mr Velchev managed very quickyl to rid himself of undesirables prosecutors after exposing to the media the vast record of their "unfinished business." We learned from Mr Velchev what everyone suspected: dozens of highly sensitive investigations had been "forgotten" for years in drawers by the magistrates.

Instead of awaiting some kind of administrative punishment, several prosecutors of the old guard decided to leave, making room for professionals willing to restore the confidence of Bulgarians in their judiciary.

In a very short time, a number of well-documented investigations against high officials made their way to the courts. Among them are the head of the powerful state firm providing the central heating for the capital city of Sofia, the national chief of the traffic police and officials from the state reserve.

The wheel has started turning

These sectors were long ago suspected of sheltering large-scale corruption and these developments seemed to herald the oncoming of the long-awaited judgment day.

Now that the wheel of justice has started turning, most Bulgarians expect even more. It is difficult to believe that the high officials under accusation operated for so many years without political accountability.

The general feeling is that no matter who was in power, the same officials were

plundering the country, thanks to donations to political parties and kickbacks to government and municipal officials at very high levels.

Hopefully such revelations will be made during the court proceedings. A peer review is underway and the Prosecutor General office has given a list of the judiciary proceedings underway to the EU experts.

This may improve the wording of the EU report and even open the door for the country's accession without safeguard clauses. More significantly, the courts now have the opportunity to make their contribution to legality by changing the well-established feeling of impunity among those in power.

If those in high office in Bulgaria start thinking twice before engaging in corruption schemes, it will be a revolution greater than EU accession itself. I am optimistic that this will be the case.

The author is a journalist for the Bulgarian Standart Daily

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