Bulgaria Agriculture Ministry 'Sells' Mountain Plots For Free - Expert

Environment | September 2, 2012, Sunday // 16:20|  views

Toma Belev, the former director of the Vitosha National Park, is one of the most respected environmentalists in Bulgaria. Photo by BGNES

Bulgaria's Agriculture Ministry has started to sell some 2000 acres of highland pastures from the State Land Fund for a ridiculous price, Toma Belev, an environmentalist from the Zeleni Balkani ("Green Balkans") NGO has announced.

The pasture plots in question are located near Mount Midzhur in the western part of the Stara Planina ("Balkan") Mountain, and are being sold by the Bulgarian Agriculture Ministry at a BGN 0.1 per square meter, Belev alarmed.

His statement comes in the wake of an announcement by the Ministry of Agriculture and Food that they will put up for sale a total of 154 000 decares (38 000 acres) from the State Land Fund in exchange for the so called "compensation bonds" defined as compensation instruments, issued to owners of property nationalised during the communist era that cannot be restored to them in its physical boundaries, which will be eligible payment instrument for the transaction.

The Agriculture Ministry said the total worth of the compensation bonds for the 154 000 decares to be sold will be BGN 47 M but the move is deemed by critics to amount to bestowing the land for free to large firms who managed to buy out compensation bonds from the individuals over the past 20 years.

Belev is one of the critics alarmed by the fact that corporations can grab hold of large plots of land almost for free.

"These are mainly pastures and pastures with bushes up in the mountain, which amounts to almost all pastures near Mount Midzhur," he explained.

Belev calculated that the average asking price of the Agriculture Ministry per decare is about BGN 80, or about BGN 0.08 per square meter.

"This is a ridiculous price keeping in mind that it is paid for in compensation bonds. On Friday, the compensation bonds were traded for BGN 0.18 per compensation bond worth BGN 1, which means that the future owner will acquire the highland pasture at Midzhur for less than BGN 0.02 per square meter," he explained referring to the current price of compensation bonds on the Bulgarian Stock Exchange.

"When it's about "commassation" (i.e. land consolidation – editor's note), for example, if the state has 2 decares somewhere, then selling that is OK. But when it's about 8 000 decares – this means shifting the ownership of the dominant plot in a certain territory from the state into private hands," Belev stated.

He further exposed the sale of pastures by the Agriculture Ministry by explaining that the future buyer who pays BGN 0.08 per square will get their investment back in just one year simply by receiving funding from EU Rural Development Program.

The second matter of concern for the environmentalist is the fact that the Bulgarian state has now started to sell highlands.

"The Bulgarian state has always had a policy of preserving these highlands in the mountain regions as state ownership, including by seizing private plots in the early 20th century. Let me remind you that all of the Vitosha Mountain near Sofia was expropriate in 1926 for a total of BGN 3 M. This was done in order to achieve land consolidation. What's happening now will lead to fragmentation which isn't good for anybody," Belev elaborated.

He said that the tenders of the Agriculture Ministry to sell 154 000 decares across the country feature large plots of 800-1200 decares, or groups of plots of up to 8000 decares.

"I think that these properties can be managed efficiently by the state. The state is now shedding key properties, especially in the highlands – and that will be bad for both the state and the society," the expert declared.

"Nobody will sell their own land for BGN 0.02 per square meter. I would like to meet the person who would do that," he added.

The Agriculture Ministry has not been available for a response to Belev's statements, the BGNES news agency reported.

Toma Belev is one of the best known and most active environmentalists in Bulgaria; he has gained public acclaim with his work as the former director of the Vitosha National Park near Sofia.

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Tags: Toma Belev, Agriculture Minister, Agriculture Ministry, environmentalist, environmentalists, Mount Midzhur, Midzhur, pasture, plots, land, land plot, compensation bonds, commassation, land consolidation, Miroslav Naydenov, Stara Planina, Balkan Mountain, Northwestern Bulgaria


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