Bulgarian Parliament sets up ad hoc committee to probe fighter jet acquisition process
Bulgaria’s National Assembly voted on June 28 to set up an ad hoc committee to examine the carrying out of the procedure to select a new fighter jet aircraft, in a move expected to focus on how Sweden’s Gripen came out ahead – and after the GERB party publicly referred to suspicions that President Roumen Radev meddled in the process.
The vote to set up the committee, to be headed by GERB MP and defence committee member Emil Hristov, was – in a 240-seat legislature – 106 in favour, 89 against and with eight abstentions.
The ad hoc, multi-party committee is to have a lifespan of two months. It will have 19 members – eight from Prime Minister Boiko Borissov’s GERB, six from the opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party, two each from the nationalist United Patriots (the minority partner in government) and from the opposition Movement for Rights and Freedoms, and one from Vesselin Mareshki’s Volya party.
GERB parliamentary group leader Tsvetan Tsvetanov had announced at a special news conference on June 25 that the party wanted the special committee set up, while levelling accusations of suspicions about the role of Radev, a former air force commander, in the process.
Radev has been scathing in his response to the statements by Tsvetanov, asking whether Borissov backs Tsvetanov in these views, while the President also has pointed out that the National Assembly has no legal power to summon the head of state.
Speaking in the House on June 28, Tsvetanov said that Parliament was the place where debates were held when spending on such serious projects was to be carried out.
Tsvetanov denied that the formation of the committee was targeted against Radev, saying that “no, we simply want the truth to come out, because if we had had such debates on important projects that the country carries out, the Borissov government would not have had to pay for Belene nuclear power station”.
Radev, Tsvetanov said, “is President of Bulgaria and he will remain so as long as he carries out his duties”.
According to Tsvetanov, the “whole public” suspected that in the military acquisition process, “the government will embark on some corruption scheme”.
Yordan Tsonev of the MRF said that nothing prevented the Cabinet from revoking a decision of a previous Cabinet. Setting up the ad hoc commission would not only block the fighter jet acquisition process, “it will also compromise it,” he said.
Tsonev said that the National Assembly had taken a unanimous decision on June 2 2016 to proceed with the ordering of the new military fighter jets.
GERB’s Hristov said that the committee would not hinder the process of acquiring a new type of combat aircraft but would assist it.
“Making suggestions that this committee will block the work of the government is not correct,” Hristov said.
Another GERB MP, Vladimir Toshev, told the House: “We are not saying anything against the President or against the working group (that compiled the report to the caretaker cabinet that ranked the Gripen bid as the best). We want to understand the information,” Toshev said.
“With the money we are going to spend, we will guarantee national security, not to satisfy the political ambitions of either GERB or the BSP or anybody else.
“It is unacceptable to spend 1.5 million (sic) leva for a plane that was ranked ‘in the dark’ without informing the MPs,” Toshev said.
“We are not predicting anything, but we are constantly talking about transparency, clarity, clear criteria, and now that we want Parliament to hear how and why the working group ranked Gripen first Gripen, the Eurofighter second and disqualified the F-16, no one wants to hear the answers,” he said.