Public data are a good thing. The most useful ones among them include information about how the State is spending money. Digging in them, journalists uncover treasures.
The publication of open data by Bulgarian institutions began under the current government due to pressure from several experts that have moved from the camp of protesters against the model #WHO over the barrier of power with intentions to reform it. The timetable of further publications is not known as it is not known if they will continue, but the little released so far has yielded very useful results.
In November, the portal Opendata released in bulk structured data about State procurement contracts for the period from January 2011 to the end of August 2015. These are 102,011 contracts totaling 32,860,567,076 levs (thirty three hundred billion levs) of which 11,831,471,581 levs in European funding.
Unfortunately, the published data are incomplete. In 5,000 contracts for nearly 9.5 billion levs the contractors are groups of companies, and these companies are not listed. We had to research them by other means, which took a lot of time and work, but the result is worth it.
Once we processed the raw data, we inserted them into a convenient search engine, which allows to find in seconds scandalous facts; to track who is feeding these circles of companies and to establish “who is who among Bulgarian oligarchs and how much is their worth.”
The search engine can be used directly by typing the name of an institution, location, company, the subject of the bid, the year, etc. We can learn instantly the amount spent for toilet paper (428,717 levs) or gasoline (591,805,599 levs) or for highways; how much the National Security Services have spent in a certain period (9,962,008 levs) or the Central Electoral Commission (2,265,013 levs) or the Municipality of Brusartsi -12,311,844 levs, of which 11,652,036 in EU funds.
The results of searching and filtering by various criteria are even more interesting. By using them, we can establish how many contracts the company Vodstroy-98, connected with infamous lawmaker Delyan Peevski, has won – 965,866,186 levs, of which 665,395,658 levs are for European projects. From these nearly one billion levs, the independent participation of Vodstroy-98 has resulted in 46,137,168 levs and the rest were earned through various groupings – consortia and others. Contracts in the amount of 618 million levs, of which 463 million levs in European financing, have been signed during the term of the Socialist-endorsed government of Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski.
Bu using the combined search, we also learn that Western companies are not having much luck in Bulgarian public procurement. Austrian Shtrabag has submitted 74 bids and has won only 44 of them totaling 69,904,166 levs or 44% of the available money. Meanwhile, Vodstroj-98 was very lucky – from the 982 million levs available, it has sealed contracts for 965 million. This makes its success rate stand at 98.2%. The company PST Group also had remarkable success as it has been entrusted with the construction of the „Hemus” highway for a record price. It had participated in bids for 604 million levs and has won 88% of them – for 534 million. Varna-based Hydrostroy is also doing well with 718 million levs from the available 764 million levs or 93.97%, however, Glavbolgarstroy is the record holder with 598 million levs from 604 million available, or 99.3%.
The processed data also provide opportunity to make different rankings such as ranking the companies by the value of all contracts. There, Lukoil is the absolute champion (anyone surprised?), followed by Peev … sorry, Vodstroy-98. If, however, we add together all of his companies, including those with hidden participation, maybe Peevski will end up being precisely the champion. In the absorption of EU funds, the ranking is firmly led by Vodstroy-98 with 665,395,658 levs. The search engine can also track which company has received the most contracts under a particular government.
The Public Procurement Agency (PPA) refused to provide data for the period before 2011 with a strange motive. “According to Art. 20, paragraph 1 of the Rules for Implementing the Public Procurement Act, the Public Procurement Register (PPR) contains information on the procedures for procurement opened in the last five years. In connection with the above, we cannot provide information about prior periods, respectively Opendata.government.bg portal cannot contain more data than the primary registry – PPR,” states the agency’s response to our inquiry. At the same time, the primary registry contains data from before 2011, and the first ones are from 2007 or the middle of the term of the government of the Tripartite Coalition. Bivol will request these data under the Access to Public Information Act (APIA).
But the real investigative work begins after identifying the “intriguing” cases. Who are the owners and managers of companies that are serial bid winners in certain sectors or locations? Do they have ties to political parties, politicians and high-ranking officials? Were there conflicts of interest or “circles of companies”? Here, we rely a lot on our readers who have knowledge about the institutional and local nepotism (relatives, political party, etc.) and can quickly identify which company is, for example, owned by the mayor’s f brother-in-law, which contract has been given to a classmate of a Minister, or if any party functionary is a serial winner. We welcome your signals at [email protected] mail and on the Facebook page of Bivol.
This post is also available in: Bulgarian