Bulgaria caretaker cabinet sacks customs chief, and other appointments

Bulgaria’s caretaker Finance Minister Roumen Porozhanov sacked the head of Bulgaria’s Customs Agency, Pavel Tonev, reappointing Vanyo Tanov to the job, the ministry said in a statement on August 12 2014.

Tanov was the head of the agency between 2009 and August 2013, appointed by the centre-right government of prime minister Boiko Borissov. He was among several state agency directors, appointed by the Borissov administration, that were sacked in the summer of 2013 by the Plamen Oresharski cabinet – and is now the first agency director to be appointed by the caretaker cabinet of Prime Minister Georgi Bliznashki.

Speaking to Bulgarian National Radio (BNR) after his appointment was announced, Tanov said that he accepted the job in order to fix the damage done under the now-departed Oresharski administration.

“I am taking over the agency because over a period of four years we did a lot to turn the Customs Agency into a European structure and I was pained that over the past few months it was diminished both in structure, capacity and efficiency,” he said.

“In the previous four years, when Europe was in a deep financial crisis, we still managed to increase revenue by 800 million leva to 900 million leva a year on average, or 2.5 billion leva over a period of three years. Unfortunately, revenue now is at 2012 levels, meaning that two years have been wasted,” he told BNR.

The Oresharski administration made bold proclamations of its intention to contraband, which, it said, cost the country’s Budget two billion leva (about one billion euro) in lost revenue every year. But it never gave details of how it hoped to achieve this goal, which has proven elusive for all its predecessors in office – including the socialist-led tripartite coalition that governed in 2005/09, which had Oresharski as finance minister.

Instead, revenue collection in 2014 was only marginally better than in 2014, which, coupled with increased Budget spending, has resulted in a deficit of nearly one billion leva for the first half of the year, raising the prospect that the deficit target set by the Oresharski cabinet – 1.8 per cent of GDP or an estimated 1.5 billion leva (possibly less if economic growth falls short of the amount envisioned in the Budget’s macroeconomic framework) – would not be met.

It has not helped that the Customs Agency has seen a quick turnover in management – Tanov’s successor, Kiril Zhelev, lasted only two months before he was made deputy finance minister and was replaced by Tonev. Furthermore, one of Tonev’s deputy directors had to resign after he his access to confidential information was resigned, while another deputy director lasted only a month before resigning “for personal reasons”.

Tanov is no stranger to controversy himself, most prominently in early 2011, when wiretap recordings were leaked to the media of a conversation between Borissov and Tanov, in which Borissov allegedly ordered Tanov to abstain from further investigation into a beer brewery and its owner.

However, Tanov also showed willingness to take on Lukoil Bulgaria, the local arm of Russian oil firm Lukoil, by revoking the company’s tax warehouse licences for failing to install meters monitoring the amounts of fuel shipped and stored by Lukoil facilities, needed to calculate the exact amount of taxes and excise duties owed to the state Budget. (Tax warehouses are defined in European Union regulations as “premises approved for the production, holding and movement of excise goods”.)

On both occasions, in 2011 and 2013, courts granted Lukoil a stay of execution of the Customs Agency’s orders because the revocation of the licence would lead to damages that would be “significant or difficult to redress”.

* Bulgaria’s caretaker Prime Minister Georgi Bliznashki continued fleshing out his cabinet, naming 10 new deputy ministers on August 12, following the appointment of 16 other deputy ministers a day earlier. The new deputy ministers announced on August 12 are:

– Roumyana Georgieva and Spaska Petrova as deputy labour and social policy ministers
– Petko Petkov and Marin Vachevski as deputy justice ministers
– Atanaska Nikolova as deputy environment minister
– Irena Mladenova as deputy economy and energy minister
– Vanya Kastreva and Nikolai Denkov as deputy education and science minsters
– Yordan Yovchev and Kalin Kamenov as deputy sports and youth ministers

Yovchev held the same post in the caretaker cabinet of Marin Raykov in March-May 2013, while Kamenov was head of the Child Protection Agency until July 2013, when he was sacked by the Oresharski administration, which gave no advance warning or even reason for his firing.

* Another firing set to be reversed under the caretaker cabinet is that of Georgi Gelev, head of the Sofia ambulance service, whose sacking was ordered by now-departed health minister Tanya Andreeva. Caretaker Health Minister Miroslav Nenkov said he would meet with Gelev to offer him his job back. Nenkov has already reversed several last-minute firings of hospital chiefs, ordered by Andreeva, private broadcaster bTV reported.

(Vanyo Tanov screengrab from Bulgarian National Television.)



The Sofia Globe staff

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