Posts Tagged ‘Corruption’

The Light at the End of the Tunnel

13 September, 2009

My Peace Corps adventure is coming to a close.

It is hard to believe that two years can fly by so fast, and yet, crawl so slowly. In the past few weeks, I’ve had plenty of time to reflect over what I have done and my decision to join the Peace Corps and how that decision has impacted my life. Clearly, I am no longer the same person- I now consider a country that I previously only had an idea where it was located on a map as my second home.

I came with only one goal in mind (despite being told to have have no goals or expectations)–to make a difference. Have I achieved this goal? In ways I never suspected I could.  Have I changed? Irreversibly. I now see the world in a much different light, I’ve seen how so many can do with so little, what true oppression and hardship look like and most of all, the influence the allure the United States really has on the world. I was so impressed with how closely my Bulgarian friends followed the US Presidential elections. On female teacher told me that Hillary Clinton was her greatest inspiration because she showed what women can achieve.

But before I learned all of this, I had to go through training.  As part of my 11 weeks of training, I lived with a family of Bulgarians. When I first meet this kind family, I could only tell tell them that I loved cucumbers (which isn’t true) and could ask if there was hot water.

My host family, the Kamzholivis

My host family in Rila

Extreme cultural sensitivity on both sides bridged the language barrier and I quickly found myself a part of their family; traveling six to seven hours to spend Christmases and Easter with them.

Christmas Dinner

Christmas Dinner

This acceptance wasn’t limited to a single family who took care of me during my training. There were many many people and families that helped this hapless American in the first frightening months of service (and it should be noted, those months fall on one of the coldest winters in recent memory). Their kindness and generosity were gave me the strength I needed to get through the winter and gave me confidence that I can to it.

My dance team and I

Me with my kindergarten class, Christmas 2008

Me with my kindergarten class, Christmas 2008

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Seven Bulgarian Scandals

30 June, 2009

June 30 (Reuters) – Bulgaria’s Socialist-led government has been plagued by high-level corruption scandals during its four years in power, prompting the European Union to freeze millions of euros in aid for the bloc’s poorest member.

Brussels criticised Sofia for failing to cut links between virtually all political parties and “rings of companies”, a phrase used by Ahmed Dogan — the kingmaker in the ruling coalition and leader of the ethnic Turkish MRF — to explain how parties are funded.

Last year, Transparency International rated Bulgaria the most corrupt EU nation. Despite numerous pledges, Sofia has not convicted a single senior official of graft and has sent to jail only one crime boss since the end of communism in 1989.

Suspected criminals have received temporary immunity from prosecution after registering to run for parliament.

The agriculture and environment ministries, both controlled by the MRF, and the construction and the economy ministries, controlled by the Socialists, have been allegedly involved in some of the most notorious schemes in the past few years.

Here are the main scandals:
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What I’m Reading

16 October, 2008

From The New York Times: “Mob Muscles Its Way Into Politics in Bulgaria

SOFIA, Bulgaria — Politics is played to the death in Bulgaria, where the lives of politicians can be as cheap as spent bullets and murky business groups wage a murderous struggle for their cut of everything from real estate deals to millions in European aid.

[…]

“Other countries have the mafia,” said Atanas Atanasov, a member of Parliament and a former counterintelligence chief who is a magnet for leaked documents exposing corruption. “In Bulgaria, the mafia has the country.”

By almost any measure, Bulgaria is the most corrupt country in the 27-member European Union. Since it joined last year, it has emerged as a cautionary tale for Western nations confronting the stark reality and heavy costs of drawing fragile post-Communist nations into their orbit, away from Russia’s influence.

It is important to remember that corruption isn’t isolated to any one country or region. Every country deals with corruption at some level or another. That being said, having an (more) honest judicial system and bureaucracy is something we Americans and other Westerner take for granted. True, the US has be rocked by several scandals over the recent years (no-bid contracts, signing statements, political intimidation, etc), the average citizen is rarely involved. In the cases I cited above, those all have occurred in the halls of power. I would be very hard pressed to find one of friends who was forced to bride doctors to get a blood transfusion or a prosecutor to take legal action. In Bulgaria, this is a daily occurrence.

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Stripped and Social Commentary

24 July, 2008

Bulgaria has been stripped of it’s EU funding and PHARE has been suspended. None of this is good news for the people that need the money (the average Bulgarian).

From Trud, via the Daily Press Brief:

The daily leads with a report on the issuance of the EC reports on Bulgaria’s progress on the mechanisms of cooperation and verification and the absorption of the EU funds by emphasizing on what it considered to be the highlights in the reports:

  • EUR 500 m has been frozen, but Bulgaria is not required to return the funds that have already been absorbed;
  • The billions of euro under the cohesion funds are not at risk;
  • Brussels is still waiting to see conviction against corruption and mafia but DANS seems to be working.

Selected reaction from the executive branch (via the DPB):

Deputy PM Miglena Plugchieve is quoted as saying that the EC report conclusion don’t come as a surprise to her but she feels disappointed that the EC has failed to report on what Bulgaria has done in the last few months.

Selected reaction from an opposition party (via the DPB):

DSB’s Ivan Kostov: The expectations that the EC will tone down its criticism were not met. The situation is worse than expected an the only way out of it is the resignation of the whole cabinet.

Selected reactions from EU representatives (via the DPB):

Geoffry van Orden: This is a tremendous disappointment. We treated Bulgaria like a friend and supported is accession although we were well aware that a lot of work still had to be done. That’s why this lack progress is so deeply disappointing to us.

Joseph Daul, Chairman of the EPP-ED Group: Bulgaria has failed to honor its commitments toward Europe to successfully eradicate corruption and organized crime. It is high time now to untangle the web of conflicts of interests and prove to the rest of Europe, that national policy-makers are not synonymous with corrupt criminals.

Ouch. Those are some stinging criticisms. Though I have to say some of them are justified. In the end, as is the case with all corruption, the people in need of the money will be the one’s most impacted by the freeze.

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What I’m Reading

18 July, 2008

From the BBC: EU Plans to Block Aid to Bulgaria

The European Commission is planning to block almost $1bn in funds for Bulgaria as a penalty for failing to tackle corruption and organised crime.

A report seen by the BBC warns that millions worth of aid could be lost unless the authorities act decisively.

Bulgaria’s chances of joining the Schengen [border-free zone] area are also at risk.

[…]

[The Commission’s report] concludes that Bulgaria “has to make the commitment to cleanse its administration and ensure that the generous support it receives from the EU actually reaches its citizens and is not siphoned off by corrupt officials, operating together with organised crime”.

Being a Peace Corps Volunteer, I have no personal experience with any of this since this type of stuff is way over my head. I work with people in communities and have very little, if any, interaction with the European Union. I’ve noticed more and more headlines regarding Bulgaria have focused on organized crime and corruption. The Daily Press Brief from the US Embassy in the Bulgaria (and made available to Peace Corps Volunteers) shows the daily roundup of Bulgarian news papers have been intently focus on this as well. From everything I’ve read, massive amounts of EU funds to Bulgaria has been siphoned off to corrupt politicians and the mob. What can be most frustrating about this is this the broad daylight some of this stuff occurs. For example, the former Minister of Transportation (who has since lost his job as a result) was accused of stealing EU money earmarked for Bulgaria’s highway projects. He owned a paving company but sold his shares to his brother after he accepted the cabinet post. This company received most of, if not all, the contracts to build and repair Bulgaria’s highways. When pressed on his, he simply replied something to the effect of “It’s my brother’s company, not mine. I have nothing to do with it.” Yeah. Right. As a result of this nepotism, some roads are still in horrible disrepair. My tutor told me that the EU has certain requirements for roads going through mountains; that they must be a certain thickness to withstand the weather. In order to “save money” for “other projects”, the Ministry of Transportation shaved some of the thickness off, leaving some roads in the Rhodopi Mountains in disrepair.

The EU has set up a special commission to monitor all funds going to Bulgaria and Romania. My tutor told me a joke about this. “When we were occupied by the Roman Empire, we destroyed them with our faulty accounting. When we were occupied by the Byzantine Empire, we destroyed them with our faulty accounting. When were were occupied by the Ottoman Empire, we destroyed them with our faulty accounting. When we were occupied by the Soviet Empire, we destroyed them with our faulty accounting. Now the European Union has set up these commissions to monitor our accounting and we will surely destroy the EU!”

What I’m Reading

13 June, 2008

At Europe’s Wild Frontier: How Bulgaria is struggling to combat organised crime.

And interesting article from the Finical Times. Well worth a read to get a better idea of corruption and its impact in Bulgaria.

…organised crime reaches deep into everyday life through an underground economy that supplies everything from cocaine to VAT-free building materials. Some 30 per cent of retail fuel comes illegally from duty-free sources, says the Bulgarian Petrol and Gas Association. About 25 per cent of the cigarette market and 75 per cent of that for ready-mixed concrete is untaxed, says the Center for the Study of Democracy (CSD), a local think-tank. …

The government has been hampered by scandals. First, the chief of the highways agency was forced to quit after it emerged that contracts were awarded to his brother’s company. Next, Brussels raised questions about possible irregularities in the distribution of pre-accession funds – and suspended some payments while investigations are carried out. Finally, Rumen Petkov resigned as interior minister after two officials were accused of leaking information to criminals and the minister himself admitted meeting crime bosses.

What I’m Reading

9 June, 2008

Bulgaria under pressure over crime

Just 18 months after Bulgaria became a member of the European Union, it risks losing millions worth of EU funds unless it can prove it is cracking down on corruption and organised crime. …There have been 150 contract killings since 1990, but not a single conviction. The latest took place in April, not far from one of the busiest bus stops in Sofia.

That’s not good. However, I believe that the Bulgarian government is making honest strides to clean up the corruption. It’s important to keep in mind that corruption is a global problem and it can’t be fixed overnight. According to Transparency International, Bulgaria is ranked 64th (tied with Croatia and Turkey) while the US is number 20 (between France and Belgium respectively).

I wrote a paper in college about corruption and I find it a fascinating topic. It can be very difficult to define and it’s often very murky (some definitions include using government money to cater to the upper class for legitimate expenses. For example, buying expensive hospital equipment instead of badly needed vaccines for the general public). I believe that things will be worse off if the EU cuts off Bulgaria’s aid. That being said, Bulgaria needs to take a stronger approach tackling the problem.

Also, please keep this in mind if you plan to comment. Thanks.