14 January 2018

Bulgaria’s parliament overturns presidential veto on anti-corruption bill

 In an effort to fulfil a commitment to the European Commission, Bulgaria’s parliament has overturned a presidential veto on an anti-corruption bill, said BBC news report.

The motion to overturn the veto was backed by 146 members in the 240-seat parliament. The opposition Socialist Party voted against the motion. The president now has no choice but to ratify the bill.

The anti-corruption bill first approved by parliament in December 2017 was vetoed by President Rumen Radev.

3 January 2018

Bulgaria is the poorest country in the European Union. It is also the most corrupt country in the bloc. It took the rotating presidency of the Union on 1 January 2018 for a period of 6 months. Bulgaria joined EU eleven years ago. EU has been criticising Bulgaria for failing to prosecute and sentence corrupt officials and for not overhauling a creaking judiciary. The country has been under a special monitoring system of the Union. Despite all that, for the past 11 years not a single high-ranking official has been sentenced. A Sofia-based think tank, the Centre for the Study of Democracy, administrative and political corruption has become so endemic as to be taken as normal.

Parliament approved the new law in late December, with the backing if the EU. According to this law, several existing anti-corruption agencies would be merged into a single body. The law also provided a list of high-level officials whose income, property and conflict-of-interest declarations would be checked by the new body. However, the law did not provide for anonymous complaints against politicians. It also failed to provide protection to whistle-blowers.

President Rumen Radev, who was elected in November 2016, vetoed the law saying, “I believe that the adopted law not only does not create an adequate legal basis for tackling corruption but will even make it difficult to fight it.” He also said the new five-person unit, meant to investigate persons occupying high state posts as well as assets and conflict of interest, may not be truly independent and could be used by those in power to persecute opponents.  He also said that election of five-member board by the parliament posed the risk of political meddling.

It is not clear whether this is a lame excuse for failure to tackle corruption. There is some truth in what the president says. But to prove his commitment to eradicate corruption the President should take steps to introduce better anti-corruption legislation without delay.

Radev’s veto makes it necessary for the parliament to re-examine the bill but lawmakers can also overrule his objections, forcing him to sign the law in its present form.