When President Rosen Plevneliev introduced the caretaker government, he said that he is “ensuring full transparency” and “the caretaker government must give Bulgaria a new direction towards transparency, efficiency and cooperation”.
Inspired by this unequivocal position, we requested from the Ministry of Finance to provide us with information under the Access to Public Information Act (APIA) on the account balances of all State enterprises and institutions in all banks for each month for the period January 1, 2004 – September 1, 2014.
We did this with the firm belief that such socially significant information will shed additional light on the corrupt criminal-oligarchic model of links between the banking sector, the business, the law enforcement, the media and the political elite. We are confident that public resources should be spent transparently under the oversight and scrutiny of society.
The public interest in the elucidation of this information is obvious. It will expose by sectors banks that are the “darlings” of different political forces. It will uncover the mechanisms for maintaining the virtually-bankrupt “bad apples” on life support, using public resources. Many dependencies of Bulgaria’s backstage rule will surface. Ultimately, “Operation Clean Hands” cannot happen without applying the textbook principle “Follow the Money”, and each taxpayer should be able to track State money, which is currently not the case.
They gave us two formal reasons for the refusal that contradict each other. The Ministry of Finance does not have these data, and to collect them was a lot of work. The exact wording is: “The Ministry of Finance does not have data and documents containing information on issues raised in the inquiry and their collection, processing and creation requires effort going beyond the usual ministry activities.”
This is similar to the way institutions, caught between a rock and a hard place, responded in Soviet times: “First – this is not true; second – it happened long ago.”
Naturally, such a refusal would not hold up in court. The law is clear – if information exists, it must be provided by the institution in charge. The explanation that the information was not systematized because it “requires effort” is cause for dismissals and resignations, not excuses.
It is not true that great effort is being requested from the Ministry. It is sufficient to prepare and send to all State enterprises and to all budget spending departments a standard excel spreadsheet. Put months in columns and banks in rows, and accountants should fill in the data and return it by email. It is also nearly a no-brainer to make an online form for the same information that can be used in the future – after the initial effort to fill it for past periods, up-to-date information on the distribution of public money in banks can be published each month. If the Ministry does not have the technical capability, we can provide expert assistance. We will send the spreadsheet and the online form and we will do it in two days completely free of charge.
There is an apparent lack of will for this to happen, thus discrediting the President’s transparency pledge as he is in charge of the government. In what direction is the Ministry of Finance going and is it going somewhere, or is it stuck firmly in the tradition of opacity and hostility to civil society? These questions are to be clarified in a case in the Administrative Court, where we plan to challenge the refusal under APIA.
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