The Ministry of the Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the EU is the most opaque and unrepresentative institution in Bulgaria, a research has shown. Krassen Nikolov has the story.
Krassen Nikolov is a journalist specialised in judiciary affairs. He works for Mediapool and is a regular contributor for BulgarianPresidency.eu for the six months of the Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the EU.
Unlike any other EU country, Bulgaria created a ministry responsible for its EU presidency. It is led by Lilyana Pavlova, known for her devotion to Prime Minister Boyko Borissov and for her ability to find shortcuts when others fail.
The research was presented this week by the Access to Information Program, an authoritative NGO that has been doing such evaluations for nearly ten years.
The most opaque Bulgarian ministry is Pavlova’s, the study finds. Despite the promises for transparency at the time of its launching, the institution’s website lacks basic features. It has not even published a list of the services provided by the institution, nor the internal rules for those services. The laws and regulations that are relevant to the work of the ministry are not mentioned. There is no information about the registers and databases maintained by the institution. There is no mandatory electronic form for submitting applications. Additionally, the site is not compliant so that it can be used by visually impaired people.
In the “Acess to information program AIP” rating, this ministry obtains 43.3 points from a possible maximum score of 88.2. The Ministry of Agriculture and Food has the second worst result- 55.6 points.
The NGO scrutinises not only the sites of local and central government institutions in Bulgaria (567 in total), but also tests how institutions respond to electronic applications for access to public information.
The Ministry of the Bulgarian Presidency issued a statement stating that they categorically reject AIP’s allegations. According to the institution, they aim to undermine the prestige of the Bulgarian EU Presidency.
“The Ministry does not provide administrative services, which is why regulatory and other acts regulating this matter, are not published on its website. According to the specificity of its duties, there is no need to elaborate or publish for discussion drafts regulations, ordinances, instructions, strategies etc. In this sense it is not correct to compare the activities and functions of the Ministry, as evidenced by the published structural regulations, with indicators referring to other institutions”, the institution says.
It adds that information on the websites of the ministry and the Bulgarian presidency is daily updated and that no one has complained so far about lack of such information.
Shortly before the publication of the AIP survey, the Bulgarian EU Presidency declined to reveal how much it pays to selected media to promote the presidency of Bulgaria.
The media relations of the Ministry of Liliana Pavlova are assigned to a consortium of two companies called “Media EU”. Bulgarian and European taxpayers pay 370,000 leva (€185,000) for six months to cover the meetings in Sofia and Brussels under the Presidency’s program.
According to the project awarded to Media EU, there is a list of media committed to providing information about the EU Presidency. These include cooking shows, teenage media, weather forecasts, car tuning and gossip websites, sports pages, all-music radio stations, and dozens of media that have nothing to do with current political and social problems, the daily Sega wrote, citing from the list.
The ministry has delegated to the consortium what to assign to each media and pay accordingly. Interestingly, information is provided about payments to electronic media, but not to printed publications. The argument invoked that this is a trade secret, strangely doesn’t apply to contracts with television and radio.
There is little doubt that the payments for the print media, where the monopoly is well known, is kept secret in order not to expose the preferences of power. The latest Reporters Without Borders report says that channeling European funds to certain media in Bulgaria creates dependence and lack of transparency, and by concentrating communication budgets only on government-controlled media, the power is buying itself an uncritical environment.
Moreover, the cultural program chosen by a competition, which had to accompany the Bulgarian EU Presidency and promote the country to foreign guests, will happen with such a long delay that it is practically meaningless, as few of the foreigners who come for the European Presidency events will can see it. Almost all events are planned for May and June.
Bulgarian Presidency @EU2018BG cultural program is terribly late, a leading NGO has criticised. Exhibit that normally should have been visible early January is being assembled today in #EUCO building pic.twitter.com/GIEu6YANnZ
— Georgi Gotev (@GeorgiGotev) April 20, 2018
The question remains – was this ministry need at all, or just someone needed to be a minister at all costs, thus providing more bureaucratic jobs and ways to spend Bulgarian and European money?
The transparency of the institutions in Bulgaria is generally not good, which makes the Bulgarian Presidency look like the absolute champion in lack of accountancy.
As part of their annual survey, AIP has submitted 567 electronic applications for information to almost all bodies of the executive and local authorities. The request was quite simple – to receive their reports on the implementation of the Access to Public Information Act. The reports are not a complex analytical document, but a brief description of how many requests for information have been received, how much were denied and under what motives. Institutions are required to publish this information on their sites.
The Ministry of Justice is one of the three institutions that refused to submit their annual report on the grounds that the Access to Public Information Act is not applicable for such request. There is only one report uploaded to the ministry site – for 2016.
“The paradox is that this is precisely the ministry that should control the implementation of the Access to Information Act”, AIP commented. Recently, the justice ministry gained notoriety with its refusals for information related to the legislative process.