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Sixth Anti-Corruption Policy Forum of Coalition 2000
 
February 17, 2004
Boyana Conference Hall


Summary of discussion

Coalition 2000 convened the Sixth Annual Anti-Corruption Policy Forum on February 17, 2004 at the Boyana Conference Hall.

The Coalition 2000 Policy Forum brought together over 150 representatives of the legislature, the executive, and the judiciary, the state administration and the non-governmental sector, prominent public personalities, business and media representatives, as well as representatives of the international community and foreign diplomatic missions to Bulgaria with the aim of discussing the fifth annual Corruption Assessment Report 2003 (CAR). In the spirit of an already established public-private partnership the representatives of the government institutions and the civil society debated the anticorruption dimensions of judicial reforms which were the focus of Coalition 2000’s latest CAR.

Dr. Ognian Shentov, Chairman of the Center for the Study of Democracy welcomed the participants with a short opening speech. This was followed by a special address from Justice Minister Anton Stankov on behalf of Prime Minister Simeon Saxe Coburg Gotha. The Prime Minster’s address emphasized the positive developments in the curbing of corruption, the tightening of customs control and the efficient anti-smuggling actions ensuing from the cooperation between institutions. He identified the main tasks on the agenda: the establishment of a working judicial system and a better and safer life for citizens. The contribution of Coalition 2000 as an organizer of the public-private debate on these significant issues was also highly appreciated.

In his address to the forum, Mr. Jose Angel Lopez-Jorrin, Ambassador of Spain to Bulgaria, expressed his appreciation of the Spanish cooperation with the Center for the Study of Democracy, the Bulgarian administration and the Supreme Judicial Council. He underlined that Bulgarian institutions have come to a better understanding of the nature and the necessity of a political consensus for the success of judicial reform in the context of the transition from authoritarian to democratic rule.

Ms. Debra McFarland, Mission Director of USAID/Bulgaria appreciated the analyses and proposals offered by the Report in light of the critical role judicial reform plays in meeting European Union and NATO accession criteria.

Dr. Maria Yordanova, Director of the Law Program of the Center for the Study of Democracy, explicated the motives that made judicial reform the focus of the Corruption Assessment Report 2003 and commented briefly on the main proposals it contains, making it clear that these were developed through the concerted efforts of over 30 prominent Bulgarian jurists, representatives of government agencies, experts and non-governmental organizations.

Mr. Alexander Stoyanov, Director of Vitosha Research, presented a summary of the results of all surveys of the dynamics of corruption conducted throughout the year. Judging from survey findings, the number of corruption deals has fallen twice since 1998, their average monthly number dropping from 250,000 to 100,000. However, the figures have not changed importantly from 2002 on, which testifies to a low еfficiency of anti-corruption measures over the last year. Corruption is still regarded as a serious obstacle, especially by business people, who rate it as the most serious problem in society.

The specialized survey conducted among representatives of the judiciary in 2003 was the first of its kind. It revealed that the judiciary is not corruption-free. As few as 15 % of the interviewed magistrates think that there is no corruption in the ranks of the judiciary. One prominent feature is that the separate branches of the judiciary tend to place the blame on the other units rather than their own, and the mutual exchange of charges of corruption.

Mr. Boyko Kotzev, Deputy Minister of Interior, noted that judicial reform is both a key factor in the fight against corruption and a main challenge for Bulgaria’s readiness to become an EU member. He also confirmed that the Ministry of Interior supports the findings and conclusions of the Corruption Assessment Report 2003 and underlined the necessity of a modern effective system for the investigation of crimes and their penalization. This necessitates the adoption of new Criminal and Criminal Procedure Codes and a Law on the Execution of Penalties.

After thanking Coalition 2000 on behalf of the General Prosecution Office for the efforts invested in the Report, Mr. Hristo Manchev, Deputy Prosecutor General and Head of the Supreme Prosecution Office of Cassation, dwelled upon various corruption breeding factors in Bulgaria and the Prosecution Office’s practice in fighting corruption.

According to available information for 2003, first-instance courts have pronounced 431 sentences for corruption offences. In addition, action has been taken against 143 employees of the ministries of interior and defense, 89 of which have been brought to trial, while 12 have already been sentenced.

In conclusion, Mr. Manchev stated his disagreement with those proposals in the Report which consider changing the status of the prosecution as an appropriate anti-corruption measure.

According to Ms. Tatyana Doncheva of the Parliamentary Committee on Legal Issues, the inability of the judiciary to recognize corruption within its own ranks is a major problem. What is more, tackling corruption would require not only admitting its existence but making the curbing of corruption a priority.

Outlining the main areas where measures should be taken, Ms. Doncheva pointed out that first of all, constitutional changes are needed. These should be followed by an analysis of the corruption-sensitive cases and a review of the relevant court practice as an immediate supporting strategy to relieve the judiciary from corruption.

The areas where reform is pressing and where anti-corruption mechanisms can be created, according to Ms. Doncheva are: collateral proceedings, the corporate insolvency cases, the system of registration, the measures for detention in custody, the pending cases where no procedural steps are taken, the length of criminal proceedings, statistical data organization, the legal grounds for using special investigation means and the system of case distribution.

Ms. Ekaterina Michailova, Member of Parliament, commented on the need to put into practice the multitude of ideas for combating corruption discussed at the Forum. She cited as an example the deferred amendments to the Law on the Judiciary which had to be a follow-up to the relevant constitutional amendments, and appealed for speeding up necessary action and political determination for the actual application of these amendments. She also warned about the risk of undermining the new ombudsman institution, as even noble intentions might fail. There is as yet no open dialogue between political parties concerning the personality that should take office as a national ombudsman. Even though parties have agreed on electing a unifying figure for the post, the legal provision that the ombudsman is elected by a simple majority vote may result in choosing a politically biased ombudsman even at the price of a political scandal.

Comparing corruption in the judiciary to the temperature of living organisms as a symptom of illness, Ms. Nelly Koutzkova, Chair of Sofia District Court, stressed the urgency of reform not only in the judiciary, but also in certain units of the executive, namely the Ministry of Interior.

Mr. Georgi Nikolov, Chairman of the National Audit Office, focused on the need to enhance transparency in budget formation and expenditures, including a wider publicity of the individual budget items in the separate units of the judiciary. He also dwelled upon the issue of the public declaration of personal assets of magistrates. In Mr. Nikolov’s opinion, the current practice of submitting and storing the declarations at the National Audit Office is ineffective and should therefore be changed through the establishment of a Public Register at the Supreme Judicial Council. This would make a more effective mechanism of transparency, accountability and control on the activities of senior magistrates and government officials.

Dr. Silvy Chernev, Chair of the Court of Arbitration with the Bulgarian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, spoke in detail about proceedings and enforcement proceedings. The bar is left free of control and the behavior and ethics of lawyers are not monitored in any way. Expert witnesses, likewise, work without a Code of Ethics or a fixed recruitment mechanism. Control over the courts of arbitration is also insufficient, although their rulings often have an effect on large groups of society. Bailiffs are under strong corruption pressure which causes years-long delays in enforcement, he noted.

Ms. Svetla Petkova, Acting Chair of the Supreme Administrative Court (SAC), talked about the measures taken to improve SAC’s work following recommendations by Coalition 2000. She focused on the wider publicity of the Court’s activities achieved through developing a web page that offers free access to the documentation on a variety of cases. She then described the practice of random case distribution by a computerized case-management system which is adopted on an increasing number of occasions. Next, she presented the process of drafting a Code of Administrative Procedure where the whole corpus of substantive and administrative provisions will be incorporated and previously unregulated fields will be covered. In conclusion, Ms. Petkova presented a summary of the project on establishing district administrative courts currently under development.

Mr. Roumen Georgiev, Deputy Director of the National Investigation Service, criticized the proposal contained in the Report that the investigation should become part of the Ministry of Interior. He pointed out that such a move would in no way diminish corruption, since Ministry of Interior agencies are as corrupt as the judiciary. The Plovdiv lawyer Ms. Mahmudieva proposed a partial reinstatement of the extraordinary review in order to guarantee better accountability in the administration of justice.
 
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