Quite early into his term as prime minister, Boiko Borissov had banned his ministers from making promises, telling them instead to only recount what they have already accomplished. The ministers in the Plamen Oresharski cabinet are under no such injunction – indeed, the entire “Plan Oresharski” is nothing but a long list of promises.
And what better time to make some more promises than at the time that the government is in the final stages of drafting the Budget bill for next year?
Labour and Social Policy Minister Hassan Ademov has been the busiest cabinet minister making promises in recent days – as should have been expected, given the current government’s stated intention of helping the less fortunate sections of Bulgaria’s society.
To start with, Ademov said on September 30 that next year’s Budget will carry a provision that will increase the minimum salary from the current 310 leva to 340 leva, despite continued opposition to the move from employer organisations.
Ademov declined to discuss the implications of such a decision – including its likely impact on Bulgaria’s slowing economic growth – saying that “it is not proper” to debate disparate elements of the 2014 Budget framework before it is adopted as a whole.
At a news conference a day later, Ademov had more promises to offer, this time to the country’s poorest pensioners. Those pensioners whose monthly pension is below 200 leva would receive one-off additional payments of up to 50 leva at Christmastime, he said.
Such a move would affect an estimated 800 000 people and would require an additional 35 million leva to 40 million leva, money that the Cabinet was “looking for.” Depending on how much is “found”, the pensioners could receive between 30 and 50 leva, depending on how low their pension is, or the Cabinet could decide to give all 800 000 a lump-sum of 50 leva each, he said.
Finance Minister Petar Chobanov has been more restrained on the issue of Christmas payments, saying that a decision in that sense would be made after the Budget revenue data for September is available in November.
But he too was not averse to making a promise of his own – to improve the business climate through the draft amendments to Bulgaria’s anti-trust and public procurement laws.
Economy Minister Dragomir Stoynev piped up as well, promising that the interconnector pipelines linking Bulgaria’s gas grid to those of Romania and Serbia would be completed by the end of next year and 2017, respectively.
(The European Union allocated funds for the interconnectors in 2009 and, according to earlier promises from the past 12 months, the link with Romania should have been completed already, while the one with Serbia should have been completed by mid-2015.)
The interconnector with Serbia, in particular, would give a boost to economic growth in northeastern Bulgaria – the poorest region of the EU for several years running, ever since Bulgaria joined the bloc in 2007 – Stoynev said.
Not to be outdone by one of his ministers, Oresharski too vowed, at a meeting with the Vratsa governor on September 27, to make the economic development of districts in northeastern Bulgaria a “priority” for his government.
Alas, amid the rolling tide of new promises, one of the old ones has met an untimely end – the 10 per cent tax on deposit interest income, which the Socialists bitterly opposed in Parliament last year and promised to repeal during their campaign ahead of the May 2013 parliamentary elections, appears set to remain on the books for at least another year.
Politicians and parties breaking their promises, what a novel notion.
(Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski – with his fingers crossed behind his back, perhaps? Photo: minfin.bg)