Bulgaria’s majority partner in government, Prime Minister Boiko Borissov’s GERB party, announced on March 13 that instead of writing off more than eight million leva (about four million) in debts owed by religious groups to the state, these would be rescheduled.
The largest proportion by far of the debts is owed by the office of the Chief Mufti, spiritual leader of Bulgaria’s Muslim minority.
The announcement of the turnabout came a few days after the first reading of amendments to the Religious Denominations Act, writing off the debts, was approved in the National Assembly with the votes of GERB and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms.
The amendments were opposed by the minority partner in government, the nationalist United Patriots grouping. While boycotting Parliament, the opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party alleged that the debt write-off was part of a deal between GERB and the MRF.
GERB parliamentary leader Tsvetan Tsvetanov told a March 13 briefing that before the second reading of the amendments, the proposed legislation would be rewritten so that provision would be made for the debts to be rescheduled. Tsvetanov was accompanied at the briefing by Finance Minister Vladislav Goranov.
All outstanding proceedings by the National Revenue Agency would be suspended until the deadline for the rescheduled debt was set.
The debts, as of December 31 2018, are made up of arrear payments of social security and other taxes.
Goranov said that rescheduling the debts would make it possible to pay salaries. He said that after state subsidies had been transferred to the Chief Mufti’s office and the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, they had been seized by the National Revenue Agency to cover debts.
Tsvetanov said that the decision to finance religious denominations had been taken at a meeting of the Consultative Council on National Security, chaired by President Roumen Radev, to limit the influence of foreign countries so as to protect Bulgaria’s national security.
Earlier, GERB had claimed that writing off the debts was necessary to counter the risk of Bulgaria’s Muslim population becoming radicalised.