CHANGED BUT NOT REFORMED

by Boyan Yordanov

Bulgaria's new/old government stands slim chances of successful reforms

Since the fall of Communism, no Bulgarian government has enforced major reforms before their term in office expired. The recent and unexpected reshuffle of ministers assures that this lack of improvement is set to continue, despite Prime Minister Sergey Stanishev's assurances of “significant structural and personal changes”. Only a week after the new appointments, he announced, “this is year zero”, and added that the preparation for the election campaign had begun.

The only logical new appointment was that of Meglena Plugchieva as the new deputy prime minister, in charge of monitoring and coordinating theEU funding. Plugchieva was a member of the BSP, or Bulgarian Socialist Party, between 1995 and 2001. She resigned to take on the role of agriculture and forests deputy minister under the administration of the former king, Simeon Saxe-Coburg. In November 2004, Plugchieva spent a four-year term as Bulgaria's ambassador to Germany, which supposedly aided Bulgaria's successful accession into the EU. Therefore, the reason her appointment seems the most rational is because Bulgaria is keen to disprove allegations that EU funds are being misused. This cynical view is shared by Aleksandar Bozhkov, former deputy prime minister and Institute for Economic Development co-chairman, who described her function as “the Bulgarian government's post box to the European Commission”.

The new interior minister has been in centre stage since the changes, especially after the scandal of Rumen Petkov's alleged links to organised crime. The appointment of Mihail Mikov, floor speaker for the leftwing Coalition for Bulgaria, came as a surprise, and was coined as “a business trip” by the opposition, considering Mikov's original job as a solicitor. In his previous line of work, he has had no experience of working in the problematic ministry, so his capability of ending police corruption is questionable. This unease was intensified when Mikov's first words in his new role were: “There is no mafia”.

Each ruling coalition party seems to have sacrificed at least one of their ministers. The defence minister, Veselin Bliznakov from the NDSV, or Simeon II National Movement, was replaced by his fellow party member, Nikolay Tsonev. Nobody could explain this seemingly unnecessary new appointment. However, in a stark conflict of interest, Tsonev recently commented that he has a 30 percent share in bread producer, Nilana, suppliers to the army for over two years. He announced thereafter that he would be leaving all companies he owned shares in to avoid further implications. Another contentious appointment was that of the new health minister, former Stara Zagora mayor, Dr Evgeniy Zhelev. He survived two bomb attacks during his term as a mayor and despite being a member of the BSP, stood as an independent candidate and lost the last local elections. His managerial skills have come under fire due to the hospital that he managed going bankrupt. It seems improbable that someone with his track record would successfully amend the dire Bulgarian health system.

Even the change of the agriculture minister, Nihat Kabil, caused suspicion. The choice of his replacement, Valeri Tsvetanov, who also hailed from the DPS, or Movement for Rights and Freedoms, confirms that this party will continue to control agricultural operations. The uniformed public agreement is that these five ministers are pointless replacements, and not one of them can be properly graced with the title of a true reformer.

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