Code Red: Bulgaria’s weather forecasters warn of work stoppage
Bulgaria’s meteorology and hydrology institute, the state body that provides weather forecasts and detailed weather warnings, has threatened on September 11 to stop work as its standoff with the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences (BAS) intensified.
In a statement on its website, the institute said that, due to the lack of any executive management, it would stop all work in seven days. It also called on the government to “take a definitive and categoric decision on a new status” for the institute.
“It is obvious that the institute, which has legal obligations under three laws and eight subordinate regulations, cannot be part of a non-governmental organisation such as BAS and to count solely on the ‘goodwill’ of [BAS] collective management to carry out its duties,” the statement said.
The institute, which is one of many scientific research bodies that make up the academy, has long been at odds with BAS management over funding allocations, but the conflict erupted in the open this summer, when weather forecasters organised a protest in front of Parliament.
Meteorologists claimed that BAS internal funding guidelines prioritise research and publication, leaving the institute, which focuses mainly on the practical matter of weather forecasting, underfunded and its staff underpaid.
Their proposed solution was to have targeted project funding for the institute’s activities or, failing that, splitting from the Academy of Sciences as a separate government agency.
Several meetings of the institute’s management with BAS leadership and Education and Science Minister Krassimir Valchev yielded no solution to the institutional standoff, with Prime Minister Boiko Borissov refusing to be drawn in and saying that the Cabinet would step in only if the meteorology institute and BAS failed to reach a solution.
Matters escalated on August 30, when the BAS management sacked the institute’s director, professor Hristomir Branzov, for “failure to follow the directives of BAS management and bringing into disrepute the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences.” It failed to name an interim caretaker in his place, with the rest of the institute’s management resigning in protest.
Branzov told private broadcaster bTV on September 11 that the absence of any executive management was the reason the institute would shut down since it had no one in a position of authority to sign off on basic spending, such as salaries and utility bills.
On September 10, the academy’s general assembly voted a resolution in favour of spinning off the meteorology institute’s “operative functions” from BAS – but stopped short of shutting down the institute or reforming it as the first step towards separation.
The general assembly’s decision also did not specify which of the institute’s assets would be given to the new body.
Branzov, in his bTV interview, speculated that BAS was looking for a more “pliant” director for the asset split talks, but was equally uninterested in a quick resolution in order to avoid funding cuts if the spin-off was done before the state budget was drafted.