The Ognyan Gerdzhikov caretaker cabinet only “validated” the ranking of bids to supply new jet fighters to the Bulgarian Air Force, and left it to the next government to decide with whom to negotiate, former interim Defence Minister Stefan Yanev said.
Yanev, who is now security and defence secretary in President Roumen Radev’s office, was referring to proceedings at an April 26 meeting of the Gerdzhikov caretaker cabinet, which examined an interdepartmental committee’s report on three bids to supply new multi-role fighter jets to Bulgaria.
The military expertise did not determine the political talks that could be held afterwards, Yanev said in a June 26 interview with public broadcaster Bulgarian National Television.
“Let’s first tell our viewers that there is no deal with the Gripen,” he said, referring to Sweden’s proposal to supply newly-made-to-order fighters, widely reported to have been ranked by the interdepartmental working group as the best bid.
“The government has not yet begun talks with the three potential companies and countries that offer to provide such a type of aircraft as the Bulgarian Air Force needs. The decision taken by the caretaker government is far from determining what the procedure here is,” Yanev said.
He said that the decision taken by the caretaker cabinet merely “validated” the military expertise, doing so on the basis of a decision by the National Assembly in June 2016.
That decision by Parliament set out a road map for calling for tenders to supply the aircraft.
The deadline for issuing what is formally termed a “Request for Proposals” was December 13 2016, and the deadline for responses was March 13, though this latter deadline was extended by three weeks at the request of one of the three bidders.
“This decision by the caretaker government does not delay the process and did not determine who is the winner of the contest and who to negotiate with, but on the contrary it gives the current government the opportunity to decide with whom to negotiate,” Yanev said.
“Considering that there is no money for modernisation projects in the current defence budget, but there is a separate line in the national budget that says there is some money that could be the initial contribution to an investment modernisation project. We tried to give the regular government a horizon to conclude these negotiations by the end of the year, to use this financial resource,” he said.
Yanev rejected allegations that the working group could have been put under pressure to decide on one or another bidder. The data on the criteria in the report were tabulated and there was “no possibility” of manipulating them to the benefit or detriment of a bidder.
Asked why one of the bidders (the Portuguese offer of second-hand F-16s) was disqualified, Yanev said that the word disqualification was not quite correct because the bid which had been excluded had actually been ranked. It had been ranked third, because its time horizons for delivery and the payment proposal went beyond the parameters of the investment project.
Yanev, asked about the proposal by Prime Minister Boiko Borissov’s GERB party for a parliamentary ad hoc committee on inquiry into the fighter jet acquisition process so far – a move that GERB has targeted at President Radev, citing allegations that he pressured the caretaker administration to choose Gripen – Yanev said that everything that had been done by the caretaker government had been in implementation of decisions taken by the second Borissov government in April 2016.
These decisions by the second Borissov government had been adopted by the previous Parliament, Yanev said.
“If the National Assembly forms a committee of inquiry, it will mean that the National Assembly is checking the work of the previous Parliament,” he said.
Yanev’s words were similar to a view expressed by opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party leader Kornelia Ninova, who said of the proposed inquiry that it was tantamount to the third Borissov government investigating the second Borissov government.