It would not be an exaggeration to say that corruption is the number 1 problem in Bulgaria. According to a recent study conducted by the European Parliament, Bulgaria loses between 14 and 22 percent of its GDP every year due to corruption practices. The main question is therefore why there are no results in the fight against corruption in the country?
A recent IME analysis (available in Bulgarian) explores many weaknesses in the fight against corruption in Bulgaria, but also offers possible solutions based on best practices from across the world in that specific area. Here are some of the key observations:
1) Bulgaria does not apply international standards in the fight against corruption
The main international standards in this area are featured in several acts. Among them is the United Nations Convention against Corruption from 2003, which constitutes two main obligations for the participating countries:
the creation of special investigating or law enforcement institutions for the fight against corruption;
the creation of special administrative institution dedicated to the prevention of corruption.
Although Bulgaria has signed the Convention, to this day there is no specialized law enforcement institution for the fight against corruption. At the same time, similar institutions are set up and are operating in many countries. Some countries (such as Spain, Romania and Austria) have decided to apply these institutions to the prosecution system itself. Another have applied similar structures to the police (Belgium), whereas others (e.g. Finland) have decided to apply the institutions as a part of the judicial police in the structure of their own Ministry of Justice.
2) There is a need for a reform in the administrative bodies for the corruption prevention
The suggested creation of a unitary institution dedicated to overseeing the integrity, conflict of interest and possessions of the people participating in government is a step in the right direction. These activities are similar in their nature and their execution by the same body, as proposed by the new draft of the Anticorruption Act, and could make the integrity investigation not only more comprehensive, but also more efficient.
A certain flaw of the draft, however, is a planned merger of the integrity institution with the one set to confiscate assets and estates acquired by illegal manner. The new institution will determine and set penalties for conflict of interest and would require from the district court to make a decision by which assets and estates are confiscated based on acts issued by the institution itself. This could lead to unjust and unlawful repressions.
Nevertheless, at the same time the fight against corruption could not be considered only in the field of the administrative measures. Practices from different countries show that the main instrument in the fight against corruption is the criminal justice.
3) The unsatisfying results in the fight against corruption could be linked mainly to weaknesses in the prosecution system
There is a clear link between the low results of the Bulgarian prosecution in corruption cases and the lack of reform in the institution itself. The basic problem is the strongly centralized structure, which leads to the lack of initiative in the prosecution system.
The structure finds its legal basis in the Judiciary Act and is further developed in the system of acts issued by the Prosecutor General and the Supreme Prosecution of Cassation, as well as in the daily practice. On the other hand, the lack of accountability in the top-ranking prosecutors is a problem noted in many decisions of the European Court of Human Rights, as well as the European Commission and the Council of Europe.
4) There is a need for a special law enforcement institution in the fight against corruption
The second part of the reform in the prosecution system should include the creating of an independent anticorruption institution in the prosecution system itself. There is a positive correlation between the good practices in many European countries and the fact that those countries have applied the international anticorruption standards. These standards are to be found in the several documents of the European Commission, the Council of Europe and the United Nations and they all state that the institution for anticorruption measures should be:
Specialized – its competence should be only the area of corruption crimes;
Autonomous – independent from other institutions and accountable to the highest level, i.e. the Supreme Judicial Council and/or the Parliament;
Accountable and transparent – its structure, competence and activities are to be public with the keeping of the secrecy of investigation. The leadership of the institution should be accountable to the highest ranking institutions, i.e. the SJC and/or the Parliament;
Provided with the necessary human and financial resources – most of the European countries have created a separate structure, although formally in the prosecution system, with sufficient number of prosecutors, investigators and experts.
There is a need for the international standards and good practices to be applied in Bulgaria for there to be a solid answer to a phenomenon that could be viewed as a societal pandemic. Administrative measures in the area of integrity, conflict of interest and the publicity of assets and estates of political, magistrate and government employees are important, but are not the key. The main burden is placed on the organs of the prosecution system and the law enforcement. The much needed measures should be applied to an anticorruption strategy, in which there shall be a path for a reform in the prosecution system and for the creation of a specialized autonomous institution for the investigation of corruption crimes according to the United Nations Convention against Corruption.