Bulgaria needs to ensure a fair electoral process, transparency in government and business and launch judicial reform to fight corruption, experts say.
By Tzvetina Borisova for Southeast European Times in Sofia -- 26/08/13
A demonstrator waves a Bulgarian national flag during an anti-government protest in Sofia on July 24th. [AFP]
The main reason behind a recent wave of anti-government protests in Bulgaria is a result of corruption and weak public institutions that serve as a democratic facade for a system of governance allowing illegitimate oligarchic, vested interests to control institutional decision-making, according to Transparency International (TI) Bulgaria.
The protests that began more than two months ago were spurred by the nomination of a controversial figure as head of the State Agency for National Security. Though 32-year-old media baron Delyan Peevski's appointment was revoked, the protests continued
"They [the protesters] are fed up that the country's elites -- in politics but also in business -- are getting away with impunity for corruption," TI wrote in its recent report.
The report outlined four main steps to fight corruption and could appease the public unrest: ensuring free, fair and trustworthy electoral process, breaking down the crony networks through transparent registers of interest, regaining the citizens' trust in the judiciary and putting in place strong whistleblower protection laws.
"Of all four proposals, what seems most important to me are the measures regarding the judiciary; not so much increasing public confidence, but implementing substantial reforms in it," Lyubomir Todorakov, social researcher at the Social Research agency told SETimes.
According to the TI survey, 86 percent of Bulgarians see the judiciary as the most corrupt institution in the country, with a failure to mark any actual results in fighting corruption seen as its biggest weakness.
"High-level corruption cuts across government, legislative, judiciary and public administration, and is fuelled by powerful private interests," Francesco Checchi, anti-corruption specialist at UNDP Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), told SETimes.
Professor Slagjana Taseva, founder of NGO Transparency Macedonia, said corruption remains a key problem not only in Bulgaria, but in the Balkans creating a "state capture" syndrome.
"As we see Bulgaria is member of the EU and still has the same problems as other countries that have not started negotiations," Taseva told SETimes. "Public awareness and activism is very important. I guess we will need to develop further on this issue and to build up a common strategy."
Checchi named three main reasons behind systematic corruption in Bulgaria and in the region.
"The first is the way in which economic transition happened after the fall of the communist regimes -- privatisation was carried out without effective regulations and without oversight mechanisms capable of limiting the takeover of important economic assets by powerful elites and their cronies, this resulted in the monopolies and in the nexus of political and economic power that constitutes one of the main motivation of current unrest in Bulgaria," Checchi said.
The second element relates to democratic transition that brought free and fair elections but failed to ensure the development of other elements needed for a full democracy --"free and independent media, a civil society… and the necessary transparency and accountability of processes and activities in the public administration," Checchi added.
"The third element is linked to the way the public administrations evolved during the transition period and the relation with politics. Public administrations are being utilised for political purposes, contracts, jobs, initiatives and even regulations are often just ways for getting votes and support from communities and branches of the public sector," he said.
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