Bulgarian President Rossen Plevneliev said on April 9 that he vetoed the amendments to the law regulating the activity of the National Audit Office (NAO), which overhauled the management of the institution.
The main thrust of the amendments, passed in late March, appears to be reversing the changes passed in 2011, under government of centre-right party GERB, now in opposition, which cut down the size of the NAO top management. Under the recent amendments, the audit office would be managed by a college of nine members – as opposed to a chairperson with two deputies, as it is now – elected on seven-year terms.
Plevneliev said on April 9 that the bill breached the constitution in that the amended law did not clearly stipulate the powers of the office or the organisation of the institution, leaving such issues to the management of the NAO. Furthermore, the amended law did not clearly outline the duties of the NAO’s management regarding the institution’s audit activities.
Plevneliev also criticised the bloating of management, saying that he found no arguments in the law why the NAO managing college should have nine members. “It is unacceptable, during a time of economic crisis, to increase the management of the National Audit Office from three members to nine without a clear vision from the legislator concerning their exact activities and duties,” he said.
Additionally, the amendments allow Parliament to fire members of the NAO if they breach the institution’s ethics code or if they perpetrate a “serious crime”, without stipulating what this might entail.
“The incompleteness of the regulation creates doubt about the potential political interference in the work of the institution and the decisions it makes,” Plevneliev said.
This echoed the argument made by critics of the bill, who have said that the main goal of the amended law was to replace the current chairperson of the audit office, Valery Dimitrov, who is now serving his second term at the helm of the NAO and has been the chairperson of the office since 2005.
Dimitrov himself has been amongst the most vehement critics of the amendments, saying that the amendments would turn the NAO into a “punitive brigade” because the election of the college’s members according to parliamentary party quotas could harm the office’s independence and make it more susceptible to pressure from political parties.
Parliament needs a simple majority of 121 MPs to overturn the presidential veto and force Plevneliev to sign the bill into law, but the law’s provisions can still be challenged in the Constitutional Court down the line.
(Bulgarian President Rossen Plevneliev addresses Parliament on March 20. Photo: president.bg)