Bulgarian parliamentary committee fails to approve new anti-corruption bill

By bne IntelliNews May 14, 2016

The Bulgarian parliament’s committee on fighting corruption did not approve a new draft anti-corruption law in a vote on May 12, Dnevnik daily reported. The bill was supported by four committee members, but six abstained. The support came from the representatives of the ruling centre-right Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB) and its junior coalition partner the Reformist Bloc.

Last September, the parliament rejected in its first reading an anti-corruption bill, a setback that was highlighted by the European Commission in its annual report on the country’s progress under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) published on January 27. “The government has announced its intention to resubmit the proposal in an amended form, but the rejection underlined a lack of political consensus behind the reform process,” the CVM report said.

Both the first text and the new version of the law were proposed by Deputy Prime Minister Meglena Kuneva, the leader of Bulgaria of Citizens Movement (DBG), one of the parties in the Reformist Bloc. On May 13, DBG warned that it would withdraw its support for the government if the parliament rejected the new bill as well.

The latest bill envisages the creation of a national bureau, which will unite the current anti-corruption agency BORKOR, a unit of the national audit office, as well as the commissions dealing with conflict of interest and withdrawal of criminal assets. The bureau’s director and his four deputies will be elected by the parliament.

There were two main criticisms of the new bill.

The first concerned the type of majority required for electing the new body’s management. There are three options: a qualified majority of two-thirds, a simple majority of more than half of the MPs (50%+1), or simply more votes in favour than against. The bill’s critics demanded the first or at least the second of these options. However, Kuneva explained that she is not against such solutions, but she was advised by legal experts that the constitution does not allow them.

The other main criticism was the possibility for sending virtually anonymous signals to the bureau, with the only requirement being the presence of a signature. A committee member pointed out that this was the main reason the parliament rejected the initial version of the bill last year.

Meanwhile, Tsvetan Tsvetanov, deputy chairman of GERB said on May 13 that GERB’s lawmakers support the bill, but it has to muster a majority in the parliament. GERB leads a minority government in Bulgaria.

The new bill will be also examined by the parliament’s legal committee, which has a leading role, Capital Daily commented on May 12. According to GERB lawmakers quoted by the daily, the expectations are that this committee will approve the draft law.

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