Bulgarian President Roumen Radev vetoed on January 2 the new law that envisions the creation of a single body to oversee the fight against corruption, taking the unusual step of challenging the bill in its entirety, rather than just some of its provisions.
In a statement’s the president’s office said that corruption had “multi-faceted dimensions” and fighting graft could not be limited only to the measures included in the new law. “These measures, albeit necessary, are insufficient to effectively counteract of corruption, as society expects it to be,” the statement said.
The presidency’s lengthy motives explaining the reasoning for the veto argues that the bill falls short of its stated goal of fighting corruption, while at the same time “deviating from the fundamental tenets of the constitution and international treaties that Bulgaria is party to,” according to the statement.
One of the specific objections raised by the president is that the bill is “built upon the assumption that the issue with ineffective counteractions to corruption can be resolved through institutional measures by creating a ‘single anti-corruption body,'” a goal that is doomed from the start, given how many other state bodies are given the right to establish the existence of conflict of interest.
The new body would have varied functions and the time it would take for the organisational re-structuring and the issuance of additional regulations created the risk of losing existing momentum. Additionally, the bill did not offer “convincing guarantees for the independence, impartiality and responsibility” of the members of the new body.
The bill envisions the merger of several institutions currently tasked with fighting corruption, including a department in the State Agency for National Security, the government’s commission on fighting corruption and the asset forfeiture commission. It was passed on December 20 2017 with votes from the two partners in the ruling coalition, Prime Minister Boiko Borissov’s GERB and the United Patriots group of nationalist parties, but was opposed by the opposition socialists and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF).
Among its more controversial provisions is that it does not allow any anonymous corruption tip-offs – a whistleblower would have to provide their full name, national ID number and contact information, raising concerns that they could be targeted with slander proceedings in retaliation if the investigation against an official finds no proof of wrongdoing.
Additionally, the law would give the new anti-corruption body the right to authorise wire-tapping officials, even though it has no investigative powers, meaning that the results of such special surveillance would not be admissible in court. At most, the body would be able to forward its evidence to the prosecutor’s office, which would have to obtain its own wire-tapping warrants.
This could lead to the body being used as a tool to stifle political dissent and even target members of the media, opponents of the law have claimed.
(Bulgarian President Roumen Radev photo: president.bg)