The European Commission does not believe the Bulgarian Certification Body for the Rural Development Program (RDP) and will not propose the accounts of the Paying Agency, the State Fund Agriculture (SFA), for 2015 for clearance. This means that nearly 1.1 billion levs under RDP and direct agri-environment payments will not be restored on schedule. The fact that the results of the work of the Certification Body cannot be used as a basis for clearing the accounts is also a threat that the payments can be denied definitively, which could destabilize the budget.
However, the government is given time to implement an emergency action plan by October, when a bilateral meeting is scheduled in Brussels, according to the nine-page letter with appendices, sent to the SFA, the Ministry of Agriculture and the Permanent Representation of Bulgaria to the EU on 29 April, 2016.
Besides Measure 214: Agri-environment payments, Measure 213 Natura 2000 is also questioned. Errors and lack of transparency were also detected in the public procurement for Measure 321: Basic services for the economy and rural population. The Bulgarian side failed to correctly report the flawed public procurement procedures, and the Commission thinks they are for much larger amounts.
The outrageous abuses of money under this measure were exposed in a series of investigations by Bivol (see here and here) and it has a sequel. Stadiums and sports facilities have been built under this measure in small towns, with very inflated prices. The leading picture in this article is a further demonstration of the state of the archives of the “rural program”.
The agricultural payments are the only European payments managed by the Integrated Administration and Control System (IACS), which does not provide any transparency in the actions of the Paying Agency. SFA refuses to work with the new and more transparent system – Management Information System for the EU Structural Instruments (MIS) – under the pretext that its employees are not trained. The real reason is that people from the Agency do not like public scrutiny.
The conclusion of Directorate “Agriculture” of the European Commission (DG Agri) is that the weaknesses in the supervisory control of the Paying Agency (SFA) do not adequately protect the financial interests of the Union.
Until June 2015, the certification body was “Deloitte Bulgaria” and from December 1, 2015, it is “Grand Thornton”. The real work of the certifying company did not begin until January 2016. The blame for this delay goes to the Ministry of Agriculture and SFA. In 2014 and 2015, the Commission for Protection of Competition (CPC) annulled twice the decision of the Minister of Agriculture for the procedure for selecting the certification body due to irregularities.
According to the letter, due to the above, the on-spot controls were performed late and could not be performed for Measures 213 and 214. Figuratively speaking, the eco pumpkins and mushrooms were already picked or simply left to rot because the money was taken in advance from the budget. There is no way to determine whether they existed at all and in what quantities.
Bivol is publishing the letter which on June 14 became the subject of political stabs between the opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) and the ruling center-right Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB), after the BSP leader Korneliya Ninova said that the European Commission had frozen payments for over 1 billion levs. GERB’s answer was that such a letter did not exist.
The European Commission replied to an inquiry sent by Bivol that it would not comment on anything because a final decision has not been made.
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