Bulgaria to shut down state public opinion agency, and other dismissals

Bulgaria’s lawmakers intended to terminate the National Centre for the Study of Public Opinion (NCSPO), the Parliament’s public opinion polling agency, Speaker Mihail Mikov said in an interview published by mass-circulation daily Trud on August 5.

“NCSPO has no place in Parliament. Now, when there are enough public opinion research agencies, there is no need for a state one,” Mikov was quoted as saying. Instead of a public opinion polling agency, the National Assembly needed a unit that would assess the impact of new legislation and “light a red lamp” when a law was not having the desired effect, he said.

NCSPO was set up by Parliament decree in December 1989, only a month after the palace coup that deposed long-time communist party leader Todor Zhivkov, making it the oldest polling agency in the country. Despite competition from private public opinion research firms, it has remained one of Bulgaria’s more trusted polling agencies (although not without accusations that it tended to favour whichever party was in government at the time.)

Critics of the current Government and ruling coalition interpreted the announcement as an act of reprisal against an institution that proved too independent. In its latest public opinion poll last month, NCSPO said that its survey showed that the current Parliament had the lowest public approval rating (and highest public disapproval) of any National Assembly since 1997. The same applied to the man sitting in the prime minister chair, Plamen Oresharski.

At the same time, the survey showed that 58 per cent of respondents approved of the ongoing anti-government protests, now into their eighth week, while 47 per cent were in favour of snap elections.

* Among other replacements done by the current government was the firing of the board at state-owned IT company Informatsionno Obslujvane, best known as the provider of the software for tallying votes during elections in Bulgaria.

The board was replaced, even though their term did not expire until October 2014. Reports in Bulgarian media, citing data from the Trade Register, said that the new appointments took office on July 22, for a term of five years.

The company made headlines most recently in March, when then-chairperson of the board Mihail Konstantinov, a constant fixture on Bulgaria’s central electoral commission for two decades, resigned following a week-long row, during which political opponents accused him of trying to influence the outcome of the early elections, scheduled for May 12.

The accusations came after Konstantinov said last week that he would do everything possible to prevent a return of the tripartite coalition that governed Bulgaria between 2005 and 2009. Konstantinov said that his statement that caused the controversy was not a sign that he planned to perpetrate electoral fraud, rather an expression of his political views.

* Another senior government official given the sack last week was the head of the Child Protection Agency, Kalin Kamenov, appointed under the previous administration. Kamenov was replaced by Eva Zhecheva, who was the agency’s director in 2001-2002, before she was sacked by the labour and social policy minister at the time, Lidia Shuleva, for alleged mismanagement.

Kamenov said that he was the latest political sacking and was given no advance warning or even reason for his firing.

In Parliament on August 2, opposition party GERB – on whole list Kamenov was a candidate MP at the May 2013 election – accused the ruling coalition of settling political scores.

* In the lower reaches of the civil service, the Environment Minister, Iskra Mihailova, fired the heads of the 16 regional environment inspectorates, as well as the heads of Bulgaria’s three national parks and four regional departments in charge of water management.

The ministry said that the reason for the firings was inefficient and slow work on projects funded using EU money, as well as numerous complaints against their work. Mihailova said that replacements would be announced after holding transparent competitions to fill the vacancies, with the job requirements due to be announced in September.

(Parliament Speaker Mihail Mikov. Screengrab from Bulgarian National Television)



The Sofia Globe staff

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