Bulgaria's Borisov Govt after 9 Months: from Bad Legacy to No Grand Strategy?

Editorial |Author: Ivan Dikov | March 30, 2010, Tuesday // 19:47|  views

Almost nine months into its term, Bulgaria’s Borisov government seems to be increasingly bogged down on all fronts.

The economy is struggling: the unemployment has been on the rise, the state budget has found itself short of revenue, little of the much celebrated “unblocked” EU money has been put to use, and despite all fiscal austerity Bulgaria is facing an emerging budget deficit that may forestall its much anticipated ERM II accession, delaying the adoption of the euro.

At the same time, the Borisov government has failed to generate not just spectacular but also decisive successes against corruption and organized crime. Even though the Interior Ministry has seen some consolidation, winning praise from the European Commission in its interim monitoring report last week, especially for the combined “policemen-prosecutors” units, there have been few sentences of criminal bosses and corrupt top officials.

No doubt, these are all great challenges whose tackling will take time. And certainly, the judiciary is independent and the government has no direct way of influencing it.

Yet, the cabinet and the ruling majority have not been as convincing in their actions as many in Bulgaria (and abroad) had hoped. The big problem is that the answers of two major questions remain unclear.

First of all, there is the question of the legacy of the Stanishev government of the so called three-way coalition – a very serious issue that has to be settled once and for all in a decisive way if the Borisov government wants to preserve the “anti-mafia, anti-corruption” image that brought it to power.

Now, unless you are a brainwashed ex-Warsaw Pact military officer still in good physical health (there are a lot of those in Bulgaria), it should be clear to you that the whole three-way coalition government was a messy affair. Even though it somehow tottered to the much cherished EU membership, in the best-case scenario, the former government was profoundly inefficient – with the introduction of the coalition quotas and all, and with the weird governance ideas – especially of the Socialists.

According to many allegations, it was also extremely corrupt. At least that’s what the average Bulgarians hear. And they hear it mostly from its successors and their leader, Prime Minister Boyko Borisov. All these allegations might as well be very true – but who is to say?

Unless one is politically biased, one should assume the former ministers are innocent until proven otherwise.

The big drama here is that the Borisov Cabinet keeps making staggering revelations that appear to expose gross abuses of its predecessors but there is little follow-up on those – or at least this is how the situation seems from the outside.

The most appalling revelations are as follows: 1) the former government(s) squandered and/or embezzled, i.e. stole about BGN 2 B through mega projects such as the Belene Nuclear Power Plant or the Tsankov Kamak Hydropower Plant without actually creating anything to the benefit of the public; 2) in 2008-2009, the Stanishev government signed contracts with private firms for about BGN 2,2 B which it knew it did not have money to pay for, thus leaving behind a hidden deficit wrecking Bulgaria’s Eurozone chances, among other things.

If all that is true, I am utterly outraged as a Bulgarian citizen. But if these revelations are true, other than public outrage, they should also bring lengthy jail sentences for former and acting politicians and confiscation of assets acquired as a result of embezzlement.

None of that is happening. Of course, it takes time to investigate and prosecute anybody. But the present situation is no good for the government or the people. One sees the Prime Minister and the rest of the Cabinet mention alleged abuses but one does not see them going about investigating and prosecuting them with sufficient vigor and zeal.

If crimes have been committed, they are not to be used as excuses for present misfortunes. They are to be prosecuted. Statements that a certain case has been referred to the prosecutors, or is in the hands of the judges, are no good, either – Bulgarians do not trust these institutions, and perhaps for a good reason.

So if the government knows there are problems with the judiciary, it should let the civil society monitor the emblematic cases, or let the EU monitor them.

The actions of the Borisov government in that respect are just not convincing enough. Sure, it has a lot on its hands. But it does not have much time. If it is to make anything happen, it should be moving quickly and decisively.

Then there is the second really major issue for the Borisov government: the lack of a grand strategy. What sort of an economy and society is this government planning to develop? Where is this nation headed? In modern times, the Bulgarian nation has been pushing forward led by certain ideals, no matter how utopian. It is the lack of a national ideal after 1990 (in addition to the wrecked economy) which generated much of the mass feeling of desperation and hopelessness in Bulgaria during the so called transition period.

Sure, times are very tough. But a government that wants to fix something cannot be just holding the line. It needs a vision, a rational, pro-active plan to stick to, rather than just putting out fires arising here and there. What sort of an economy does this government want to have? What will it be based upon – knowledge? Agriculture? Tourism? Pan-Eurasian transit routes?

As Bulgaria’s government is struggling with all the various issues, the judiciary finally came up with a verdict in the notorious and emblematic SAPARD draining case, also known as the trial of the “Nikolov-Stoykov” group.

Interestingly enough, what has been referred to by the EU institutions such as the Anti-Fraud Office OLAF as a single organized crime group which laundered EUR 7,5 M, was split in two by the Bulgarian court.

One of the two notorious businessmen, Mario Nikolov, was sentenced to ten years in jail, whereas the other one, Lyudmil Stoykov, a sponsor of the election campaign of the Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov, was acquitted. This seems like an uncanny coincidence...

The anti-crisis measures currently in discussion and the investigations of the former government are major watershed developments for the Borisov government. It is still enjoying the benefit of the doubt. In many ways, it is doing significantly better than the cabinet led by Stanishev. But if half-hearted sentences and inconclusive measures remain the rule in Bulgaria and if no grand strategy and vision emerge after the first nine months of the Borisov government, all of its actions and the hopes of the Bulgarian society may remain still-born.

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Tags: Boyko Borisov, Prime Minister, Sergey Stanishev, Mario Nikolov, Lyudmil Stoykov, SAPARD, anti-crisis program, grand strategy, vision, Belene NPP, Tsankov Kamak hydro power plant, Eurozone, budget deficit, corruption, organized crime


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