Bulgaria’s new cabinet ministers spell out plans
A more powerful State Agency for National Security, recruitment of civilians to act as “civil guards” to assist police, a rethink of defence reform and the rehabilitation of diplomats who were State Security agents – all these are among the plans of ministers in the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) cabinet that have become clear in recent days.
Plamen Oresharski, endorsed in Parliament on May 29 by the votes of the BSP and Movement for Rights and Freedoms and with the tacit support of ultra-nationalists Ataka, was quoted as telling socialist party mouthpiece Duma that he was aware that he would not have a comfortable first 10 days, let alone 100 days, the latter the traditional “honeymoon” period for a new administration.
Oresharski said that the first urgent measures to be taken would be to identify the bottlenecks in the business environment and reduce red tape and other obstacles to the implementation of social programmes.
Heating allowances would be recalculated to ease pressure on Bulgaria’s poorest, said Oresharski. He said that increasing the price of electricity could be held off over the long term, beyond the end of this year.
But while Oresharski was addressing questions on bread-and-butter issues, it was clear that on the Interior Ministry front, the socialists were moving as quickly as possible to remodel the workings of the system.
The first amendment legislation has passed its first reading in Parliament to remove the directorate for the fight against organised crime from the Interior Ministry and shift it under the State Agency for National Security, which also will have a new boss, now that Konstantin Kazakov – appointed under the centre-right Boiko Borissov GERB government – has stepped aside.
Final approval of the amendments will be among the first illustrations of the workings of the 42nd National Assembly where the rules of procedure have been changed to allow faster passing of laws.
Interior Minister Tsvetlin Yovchev has told Bulgarian-language media of his plan for a “civil guard” recruited from civilians to reduce crimes against property.
These instant constables will undergo special training and must meet Interior Ministry requirements, according to Yovchev, so as to serve in the civil guard units that will be set up countrywide.
“We will rely on citizens and informants to prevent crime plots and other such activities,” daily Standart quoted Yovchev as saying.
He also intended putting an end to the practice of the Interior Ministry accepting donations, a matter that was a subject of controversy while GERB’s Tsvetan Tsvetanov was interior ministry and which Tsvetanov promised to bring under control and reform to stave off suggestions of illicit trade-offs.
The Interior Ministry should stick to the budget voted by Parliament and donations, whether from a private or state company, distorted this principle, according to Yovchev.
Outside Parliament, on June 3 the police chiefs in Sofia and about six other Bulgarian cities and towns lost their jobs for what the Interior Ministry called “poor performance”.
Sofia Police Director, Senior Commissioner Valeri Yordanov, had been removed from office, the Interior Ministry said. Regional Police Directors Tsvetan Petkov of Vidin, Georgi Djoglev of Kyustendil, Daniel Psaltirov of Montana, Miroslav Petrov of Pleven and Stanimir Parashkevov of Turgovishte have been dismissed as well, because of poor performance, the ministry said.
At the Foreign Ministry, Kristian Vigenin has made headlines with his statements about diametrically reversing the policy of excluding former communist State Security agents from the top ranks of Bulgaria’s envoys abroad.
After President Rossen Plevneliev made it plain that he would refuse to approve the appointment of ambassadors with State Security backgrounds, Vigenin responded, according to media reports, “I have no State Security-related complex, my parents were not informers. I want to heal this wound at the Foreign Ministry once and for all. If the President and I do not allow other people to influence us negatively, we can co-operate. I can rethink some of the new nominations”.
At the Defence Ministry, Angel Naidenov, a four-term socialist MP before his May 29 appointment to the cabinet, declined to comment on the question of buying new fighter aircraft, against the backdrop of the financial and social crisis, Bulgarian-language Trud said.
Naidenov said that the generals again would have their say on armed forces reform and said that the plan for the development of Bulgaria’s armed forces would be reconsidered.
He is against further redundancies in the military and opposes the return of conscription.
Education and Science Minister Anelia Klissarova, meanwhile, touched on some of the more controversial issues in the field during the time of the GERB government, by opposing compulsory school education from the age of four while saying that religion could be introduced as an optional subject (which it is already). Klissarova favours reintroducing school doctors and says that more money should be allocated to well-performing small schools.
Environment Minister Iskra Mihailova, one of the MRF members of the cabinet, spoke in favour of introducing the ban on construction at the Black Sea coast, as proposed by the BSP in the previous Parliament. This would be followed through with more permanent legislation. She said that Bulgaria had good enough environmental legislation to make it possible to allow preliminary studies to establish whether exploration for shale gas would pose a risk to the environment and human health, opening the way for the transformation of the moratorium into a permanent ban if justified by the findings.