|February 17, 2004
Ms. Debra McFarland, Mission Director, USAID/Bulgaria
Members of Parliament,
Members of the Diplomatic Corps,
Representatives of the Civil Society,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure for me to open Coalition 2000’s sixth annual anti-corruption forum on behalf of the Government of the United States and the Agency, which I represent – the U.S. Agency for International Development. The evolution of Coalition 2000’s corruption indexes and corruption assessment reports reflect Bulgaria’s public debate on corruption and have followed a trend from increasing public awareness to discussion of specific issues relating to corruption in Bulgaria.
The focus of this year’s report is the judiciary. This is highly appropriate, in light of the critical role judicial reform plays in meeting European Union and NATO accession criteria. The report, with its analysis of judicial reform to-date and recommendations for the future, proves timely in the framework of the many upcoming urgent judicial reform decisions that have to be made in the area of judicial reform. I recommend this report to all Bulgarian decision-makers and to all members of the judiciary. I would like to address my comments today to those actions to be undertaken in the next few months.
The Bulgarian National Assembly last fall in the spirit of consensus, passed important amendments to the Constitution providing for greater judicial accountability. There needs to be a repeat of this dramatic example of coalition building to pass the amendments to the Judicial System Act before the Assembly right now. These amendments have many positive features, but I respectfully suggest that the amendments would benefit from an expansion of the section dealing with the disciplinary process. In this regard, there are many different ways to accomplish this with fairness to magistrates, the judiciary and with accountability to the public.
The Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) will soon consider an implementing regulation for the Judicial System Act. This regulation must provide a comprehensive and clear set of instructions for judicial governance. I this regard I also want to point out that now we have members of the judiciary on a study tour in Spain and Austria looking at the Spanish model for judicial discipline and ethics. Many of the governance issues are covered in the Coalition 2000 report and analysis and recommendations.
However I would like to point out that many of the progressive provisions in the draft regulation can be applied now. It is not necessary to wait for the enactment of amendments to the Judicial System Act to promulgate some provisions – for example the provision providing for Court Administrators. This has been tested in the model courts already and should be enacted now.
Further by the end of March, the SJC needs to complete the process of appointing new Court Chairs. In making these selections, I urge the SJC to consider candidates with these important characteristics:
1. An exemplary reputation for honesty and integrity.
2. Extensive experience and expertise and the respect of peers and colleagues.
3. Persons prepared to make a tremendous commitment of time and energy.
4. And most important - individuals of unquestionable objectivity and neutrality. Partisan politics must not enter into the selection process.
Poorly trained magistrates provide a fertile ground for corruption. I applaud the Government’s accomplishments in establishing the National Justice Institute to address this serious problem. I now challenge the National Justice Institute to become fully operational when the new semester starts in the fall of 2004. With this commitment USAID will continue to support your efforts. The report indicates that the public has a negative impression of the judiciary and views it as corrupt. I encourage the judiciary to look inward and if there is corruption, I invite the judiciary to be proactive and public and provide leadership in eliminating opportunities for corruption. Furthermore, the judiciary needs to operate in a more transparent manner. With very narrow exceptions, the judiciary could:
1. Provide full and complete records of judicial operations, including broadened access to court records for non-litigants.
2. Conduct proceedings and other public business openly.
3. Expand publication of judicial decisions.
I conclusion I want to make one final plea - while the judiciary and its units should take the lead in judicial reform, this must be an inclusive process involving all branches of government and civil society. The United States has supported and will continue to support Bulgaria’s efforts to improve judicial governance and make its judiciary more transparent and accountable. In this regard, Coalition 2000’s report provides constructive recommendations on how to elaborate some of issues I have already identified.
I encourage you to have very open and frank discussions today and then move to implementation.