WHAT CORRUPTION? WHAT FIGHT?

WHAT CORRUPTION? WHAT FIGHT?

Mon, 02/22/2010 - 14:05

Though Boyko Borisov's government says it is determined to fight corruption, the system remains at best labyrinthine

An extraordinary number of Bulgarians (in excess of 90 percent, according to some polls) consider corruption, next to low wages and crime, to be the most serious woe faced by their country. Yet only a tiny number of Bulgarians actually do anything to fight corruption.

Instead of filing a complaint or taking some sort of legal action, most Bulgarians, when faced with a problem in the public service or, indeed, anywhere that the state is in control, will resort to the usual practice. The triedand-tested way is coughing up a bribe "to keep everyone happy," or finding the right connections to "put in a good word" with the corrupt official – for example, the manager of a state-owned enterprise who would do business with the highest briber, not the highest bidder. This applies to every aspect of life in Bulgaria – from giving birth in a staterun hospital, to the traffic police, to senior officials whose one thought is how to enrich themselves ex officio.

Going the legal route, Bulgarians surmise, will take time, energy and resources, and will ultimately fail.

Sadly, their fears are justified. The system designed to fight corruption is flawed right at the roots, which means that unless you manage to have someone caught red-handed with your money (for which you will have to undergo a long procedure with the police to arrange a "watched" delivery), it will be impossible to prove anything – and your "culprit" may well sue you for libel in retaliation.

Some of the trouble with corruption in Bulgaria lies in the statutes. Theoretically, if you feel you are the victim of corruption, you can file a complaint, even via email, with the respective ministry's inspectorate. You can also copy the Council of Ministers' Commission to Prevent and Fight Corruption. But do not expect miracles. The latter, in spite of its portentous title, serves mainly as a mailbox to redirect your request to whichever ministry is in charge. Then the respective minister can order his ministry's inspectorate to start an inquiry into your allegations.

Now comes the tricky part. Theoretically, the inspectorate's staff should be independent and objective. In practice, however, these are people who are well acquainted with the official you are complaining about because they have all been working together in the same system for years. Dog rarely eats dog.

Significantly, the inspectorate will only establish whether there has been any legal fault committed by an administration or an official. It will not take a stance on instances of bad commercial practice. Do not expect common sense: officials will go strictly by the letter and be oblivious to the spirit.

To make matters worse, the decision of the inspectorate cannot be appealed in court. For most people, this precludes any attempt to seriously fight corruption in Bulgaria.

There is still one avenue of recourse open to you: the political one. If you are unsatisfied with the official finding of an inspectorate, you can complain to the parliamentary commission for fighting corruption. It can launch an independent inquiry. How long it will take and what its findings will be is as good a guess as any.

Theoretically, as a foreigner you have exactly the same rights as the locals, including the right to file complaints and demand inquiries. But you will find the language barrier in many cases insurmountable, and you will definitely need a lawyer (or a couple of lawyers) to deal with the system's legalese.

One very useful piece of legislation that actually does work in Bulgaria is the Access to Public Information Act. An NGO that assists people with the process is the Access to Information Programme at www.aip-bg.org. Corruption's biggest enemy is transparency, and the best way to gain transparency is to see documents, including minutes of verbal communications. Your request will be refused if the rights of third parties (usually commercial partners) might be affected.

You should know that under Bulgarian law, both the briber and the bribed are at fault and can be prosecuted. But the lengthy and cumbersome procedures described above make many Bulgarians resort to the age-old practice, probably invented by the Byzantines, refined by the Ottomans and perfected by the Communists: cough up a baksheesh or find someone who knows someone who knows someone.

Issue 41-42
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