Bulgaria

   

Executive Accountability

#29
Key Findings
With several notable gaps in monitoring effectiveness, Bulgaria scores relatively poorly overall (rank 29) in the area of executive accountability. Its score in this area has improved by 0.1 point relative to 2014.

While activist citizens and businesses tend to have a strong grasp of current policies within their areas of interest, policy knowledge throughout society as a whole is highly uneven. Some high-quality investigative journalism and commentary exists, but most print-media organizations prioritize their owners’ businesses over strong reporting.

Parliamentarians have very limited resources, and formal executive-oversight powers are not always respected in practice. The Audit Office performs its tasks in a clear and professional manner, and makes its findings available to the public. The ombudswoman is an activist but polarizing figure.

Political-party decision-making styles differ. Economic-interest associations have relatively strong capabilities, with labor unions behaving almost like parties in terms of the breadth of their policy positions. Other interest organizations are more activist than analytical.

Citizens’ Participatory Competence

#35

To what extent are citizens informed of government policymaking?

10
 9

Most citizens are well-informed of a broad range of government policies.
 8
 7
 6


Many citizens are well-informed of individual government policies.
 5
 4
 3


Few citizens are well-informed of government policies; most citizens have only a rudimental knowledge of policies.
 2
 1

Most citizens are not aware of government policies.
Policy Knowledge
5
The distribution of knowledge about government policies in Bulgaria is highly uneven. Citizens who are active, especially through participation in non-governmental organizations or grassroots activities, seem to have a very strong grasp of current policies in their sphere of interest. Businesses are also well informed of government policies concerning their field of operation. The general public, however, seems distrustful and uninterested. Citizens’ knowledge of how the government is actually organized and works, the division of competencies and the way decision-making and implementation proceeds is also not high. The limited political interest of many citizens is illustrated by the fact that, despite a change in the electoral code making voting obligatory, voter turnout in the elections in late 2016 and early 2017 remained well below 60%.

Legislative Actors’ Resources

#26

Do members of parliament have adequate personnel and structural resources to monitor government activity effectively?

10
 9

The members of parliament as a group can draw on a set of resources suited for monitoring all government activity effectively.
 8
 7
 6


The members of parliament as a group can draw on a set of resources suited for monitoring a government’s major activities.
 5
 4
 3


The members of parliament as a group can draw on a set of resources suited for selectively monitoring some government activities.
 2
 1

The resources provided to the members of parliament are not suited for any effective monitoring of the government.
Parliamentary Resources
4
The Bulgarian parliament has a budget of only a little more than 0.15% of national public spending. About three-quarters of the budget are used for the remuneration of members of parliament and administrative staff. As a result, resources available to members of parliament for expert staff and independent research are very limited. This means that the capacity of the National Assembly to effectively assess and monitor the policies and activities of the executive is also limited. This limitation is not structural, but rather of a political character, since the Bulgarian parliament has full discretion over the central government budget and could secure the resources for enhanced monitoring.

Are parliamentary committees able to ask for government documents?

10
 9

Parliamentary committees may ask for most or all government documents; they are normally delivered in full and within an appropriate time frame.
 8
 7
 6


The rights of parliamentary committees to ask for government documents are slightly limited; some important documents are not delivered or are delivered incomplete or arrive too late to enable the committee to react appropriately.
 5
 4
 3


The rights of parliamentary committees to ask for government documents are considerably limited; most important documents are not delivered or delivered incomplete or arrive too late to enable the committee to react appropriately.
 2
 1

Parliamentary committees may not ask for government documents.
Obtaining Documents
7
Under the Rules of Organization and Procedure of the Bulgarian parliament, parliamentary committees can obtain any documents from any public or private person in the country. A chairperson of a standing committee is obliged to acquire such documents if one-third of the members of the committee ask for them. Thus, on paper, parliamentary committees have full access to government documents. In practice, some documents are withheld from parliament with arguments about confidentiality or national security. While parliamentary committees are entitled to handle classified information and documents, such a demand would require cumbersome formal procedures such as setting up a specific body to investigate the concrete issue, adopting respective rules and procedures, and ensuring confidentiality. The institution of “parliamentary questions” put to the executive also gives individual members of parliament access to the executive branch. In practice, representatives of the executive can delay the execution of these requests, because responsibilities are not clearly specified and sanctions are not defined. There have been numerous instances of such delays. However, parliamentary questions remain an effective and widely used (especially by the opposition) tool for parliamentarians to access government information.

Are parliamentary committees able to summon ministers for hearings?

10
 9

Parliamentary committees may summon ministers. Ministers regularly follow invitations and are obliged to answer questions.
 8
 7
 6


The rights of parliamentary committees to summon ministers are slightly limited; ministers occasionally refuse to follow invitations or to answer questions.
 5
 4
 3


The rights of parliamentary committees to summon ministers are considerably limited; ministers frequently refuse to follow invitations or to answer questions.
 2
 1

Parliamentary committees may not summon ministers.
Summoning Ministers
7
Legally, parliamentary committees have the power to summon ministers and the prime minister, and under the Rules of Organization and Procedure of the Bulgarian parliament, these executive-branch figures are obliged to comply. When a minister or the prime minister is asked a parliamentary question, he or she has to respond in person in the National Assembly in due time. However, in practice, there is no sanction for non-compliance except the possible loss of reputation and political image. Members of the executive can afford to ignore such summons indefinitely, often using other duties and obligations as an excuse for their lack of response. On many occasions they do comply, but frequently only after significant delays, and sometimes never.

Are parliamentary committees able to summon experts for committee meetings?

10
 9

Parliamentary committees may summon experts.
 8
 7
 6


The rights of parliamentary committees to summon experts are slightly limited.
 5
 4
 3


The rights of parliamentary committees to summon experts are considerably limited.
 2
 1

Parliamentary committees may not summon experts.
Summoning Experts
10
Under the Rules of Organization and Procedure of the Bulgarian parliament, parliamentary committees are able to invite experts. This opportunity is available to deputies from the opposition as well. Experts are obliged to provide the committees with any information and documents that the latter require for their work. While experts cannot be obliged to attend the committee meetings, these invitations carry considerable prestige and an opportunity to have an input in the legislative process, thus providing incentive to respond promptly. Since the expert work is paid and the parliamentary budget for such expenditures is small, committees have to be selective and cannot invite a broad range of experts.

Are the task areas and structures of parliamentary committees suited to monitor ministries effectively?

10
 9

The match between the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries as well as other relevant committee structures are well-suited to the effective monitoring of ministries.
 8
 7
 6


The match/mismatch between the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries as well as other relevant committee structures are largely suited to the monitoring ministries.
 5
 4
 3


The match/mismatch between the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries as well as other relevant committee structures are partially suited to the monitoring of ministries.
 2
 1

The match/mismatch between the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries as well as other relevant committee structures are not at all suited to the monitoring of ministries.
Task Area Congruence
9
For the last several parliamentary terms, Bulgaria has maintained standing parliamentary committees that closely follow the structure of the Council of Ministers. Whenever a parliamentary committee covers areas under the competencies of more than one ministry, these areas are typically closely related – for instance, foreign affairs and defense, youth and sports, or economy and tourism. As of 2017, 16 parliamentary committees oversee the same areas as 17 ministries, with the ministries of economy and tourism overseen by one standing committee. Only the newly created Ministry for Bulgaria’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union in 2018 is not covered by a committee.

To what extent is the audit office accountable to the parliament?

10
 9

The audit office is accountable to the parliament exclusively.
 8
 7
 6


The audit office is accountable primarily to the parliament.
 5
 4
 3


The audit office is not accountable to the parliament, but has to report regularly to the parliament.
 2
 1

The audit office is governed by the executive.
Audit Office
8
The Audit Office underwent complete overhauls in both 2014 and 2015 through adoption, in both years, of completely new Audit Office Acts, changing the office’s governance structure in its entirety. In both cases, the new laws served as an excuse for the early termination of the mandates of the existing audit office leadership. While the present governance structure, established with the act of 2015, has made the office more professional than in the past, the repeated changes have undermined the independence and credibility of the audit office.

In recent years, the Audit Office has performed its tasks in a clear and professional manner with a high degree of openness and has made its findings available to the general public. Under the present framework, the Audit Office’s capacity to contribute to the improvement of the effectiveness of government expenditures and assessment of the overall impact of different policies remains severely underutilized.

Does the parliament have an ombuds office?

10
 9

The parliament has an effective ombuds office.
 8
 7
 6


The parliament has an ombuds office, but its advocacy role is slightly limited.
 5
 4
 3


The parliament has an ombuds office, but its advocacy role is considerably limited.
 2
 1

The parliament does not have an ombuds office.
Ombuds Office
7
There is a national ombuds office (the Ombudsman of the Republic of Bulgaria), which is not part of parliament, but is elected by parliament for five years. The Ombudsman is independent in its activities and is subject only to the national constitution, laws and international treaties adopted by Bulgaria. Other than putting arguments to the relevant administrative body and making its opinion public, however, the office has no powers.

The latest available data on the activities of the ombuds office are for 2016, when the Ombudsman gave assistance to 17,362 people. The office actively investigated 7,448 complaints. Most complaints made in the last few years (35% of the complaints in 2016) related to public utilities (mobile and landline phone operators, electricity, heating and water providers, and transport). The fact that the ombudsman has been approached on matters of widespread public concern indicates that the office is seen as a legitimate advocate of citizen rights and the public interest. The present Ombudsman, Maya Manolova, pushed the issues raised in the referendums in 2015 and 2016 to the point of drafting and proposing a bill for changing the electoral system, which is clearly not among the competencies of the office.

Media

#11

To what extent do media provide substantive in-depth information on decision-making by the government?

10
 9

A clear majority of mass media brands focus on high-quality information content analyzing government decisions.
 8
 7
 6


About one-half of the mass media brands focus on high-quality information content analyzing government decisions. The rest produces a mix of infotainment and quality information content.
 5
 4
 3


A clear minority of mass media brands focuses on high-quality information content analyzing government decisions. Several mass media brands produce superficial infotainment content only.
 2
 1

All mass media brands are dominated by superficial infotainment content.
Media Reporting
4
Bulgaria’s media sector suffers from heavy bias, focusing on sensationalism and scandal as a means of gaining public attention rather than producing in-depth and consistent coverage and analysis of important societal processes. In recent years, in the TV programming, this has been accompanied by a heavy accent on reality shows, which is another drain on the broadcasting time available for analyzing government and policy decisions.

Most print-media organizations can be considered as appendages to their owners’ businesses. As a consequence, high-quality journalism is secondary to the owners’ respective business interests in print media. However, high-quality investigative journalism and political commentary is still available.

In their coverage, most major media organizations tend to frame government decisions as personalized power politics, diverting attention away from the substance of the policy toward the entertainment dimension. Usually there is no coverage of the preparatory stages of policy decisions. When coverage begins, basic information about a given decision or policy is provided, but typically without any deep analysis of its substance and societal importance. On two separate occasions in 2017, prominent politicians – one member of parliament and one deputy prime minister –publicly and directly threated journalists in an obvious attempt to intimidate them and shutdown substantive policy discussions. This clearly undermines the capacity of media to provide substantive in-depth information on government decision-making.

Online media, whose numbers and importance are increasing, offer a new venue for coverage of policy decisions. In some instances, online media promises timelier and more in-depth reporting on topical issues.

Parties and Interest Associations

#35

How inclusive and open are the major parties in their internal decision-making processes?

10
 9

The party allows all party members and supporters to participate in its decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and agendas of issues are open.
 8
 7
 6


The party restricts decision-making to party members. In most cases, all party members have the opportunity to participate in decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and agendas of issues are rather open.
 5
 4
 3


The party restricts decision-making to party members. In most cases, a number of elected delegates participate in decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and agendas of issues are largely controlled by the party leadership.
 2
 1

A number of party leaders participate in decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and agendas of issues are fully controlled and drafted by the party leadership.
Intra-party Democracy
4
In the 2017 parliamentary election only two parties gained more than 10% of the popular vote – Prime Minister Borissov’s Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB) and the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP). The BSP traditionally campaigns in elections as part of a formal coalition of parties, although the BSP is by far the largest carrier of votes within the coalition. The Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) was close with 9.2% of votes. The United Patriots coalition also obtained more than 9%, but consists of three parties that are relatively equal in terms of voter strength and cannot be considered as a single entity.

The BSP is a relatively democratic party with authentic internal opposition, and clear opportunities for different factions to influence party discussions and agenda, even though the faction around the party chair usually prevails. Electoral platforms and candidate lists are prepared in a relatively centralized manner, but local party organizations do have an input and the party has several factions that vie for influence over the party’s central decision-making institution.

GERB and DPS are leader-dominated parties, as are at least two of the three parties forming the United Patriots coalition. Regardless of the internal democratic mechanisms envisaged in their statutes, most decisions are concentrated in the hands of the party leader and a few members around the party leader. While in GERB, which has a larger support and membership, the influence of different groups and constituencies can be effective, the specific characteristics of the DPS make its decision-making process opaque and highly concentrated.

To what extent are economic interest associations capable of formulating relevant policies?

10
 9

Most interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 8
 7
 6


Many interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 5
 4
 3


Few interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 2
 1

Most interest associations are not capable of formulating relevant policies.
Association Competence (Business)
6
The capacity of the major employers’ and business associations to make policy proposals is relatively well developed. These bodies can influence and propose policies in at least three ways: first, through their participation in the National Council for Tripartite Cooperation; second, through various EU-funded projects aimed at improving competitiveness and the business environment; and third, through their own capacity to perform research, formulate proposals and initiate public debates. All major associations have been relatively active in this regard throughout the period in review. This includes a growing tradition of cooperating with academic institutions and scholars, think tanks and other interest groups.

In Bulgaria there are two trade union confederations, both represented in the National Council for Tripartite Cooperation. In contrast to the employers’ associations, the unions rely more heavily on their internal expertise in drafting and promoting proposals, cooperating comparatively less with academia. The range of topics on which trade unions take active positions and make proposals goes beyond the issues of the labor market – in effect, they behave like political parties. For example, in the autumn of 2017, they made a deliberate attempt to unite efforts with several other organizations and pressure groups to push for specific tax reforms, including the introduction of individual income tax exemptions and differentiated VAT rates.

To what extent are non-economic interest associations capable of formulating relevant policies?

10
 9

Most interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 8
 7
 6


Many interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 5
 4
 3


Few interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 2
 1

Most interest associations are not capable of formulating relevant policies.
Association Competence (Others)
4
The most active non-economic interest groups in Bulgaria are largely engaged in four fields: education (especially parents’ associations), health (patients’ organizations), minorities and the environment. While there are many associations and they often act in accord, they seem more activist than analytical in their efforts. Their proposals are rarely accompanied by attempts to encompass the relevant issues fully, assess potential impacts comprehensively, or argue in favor of or against specific proposals on analytical grounds. The religious communities in Bulgaria have their channels of political influence, but are not broadly active in the public sphere. The Bulgarian Orthodox Church takes public positions only on rare occasions, as in the introduction of religious classes at school.
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