Making Bulgaria’s Anticorruption Policy Work: Sharing Experiences from European Success Stories

The challenge of corruption stands high on the political agenda, both in Bulgaria and on EU level. Experience shows that successful action against corruption is not preceded by improvement of economic conditions, on the contrary – designing and implementing effective anticorruption policies is the precondition for economic growth. The good news for Bulgaria is that it can relatively easily and with notable success implement a number of instruments for analysis of corruption risks, which could contribute to improvement of governance. These are some of the main conclusions from the July 28th 2015 round table discussion hosted by the Center for the Study of Democracy. Among others, participants included the Deputy Prime Minister Meglena Kuneva and leading academics and experts from ANTICORRP project. The main focus of the event fell on the anticorruption success stories and best practices for the development of sound anticorruption policies in Bulgaria. CSD Chairman Dr. Ognian Shentov noted that anticorruption is one of the most urgent national policy priorities that remain unresolved. DPM Kuneva acknowledged that the two most immediate next reform steps of the government, judicial reform and tackling high level corruption, are effectively the two sides of one coin. Professor Alina Mungiu-Pippidi provided the keynote presentatiuon, “Who Succeeded and Why in Curbing Corruption in Europe and Globally”, noting the importance of moving away from a subjective to an objective approach when dealing with anticorruption policies. Estonia was presented as the biggest success case in the world having seen its GDP climb spectacularly since moving forward from corruption after seceding from the former Soviet Union. Professor Mungiu-Pippidi stressed the importance of political decisions to tackle corruption coming first. Provided there is a political will to change away from corruption, economic development follows. Thus in a matter of two decades Estonia grew from one of the poorest regions in Europe to surpassing some of the regions of the old member-states. To improve, Bulgaria must reduce the opportunities for corruption, including: red tape, lack of transparency, concentrated power, large amounts of discretionary funds, and foreign aid, etc. To help measure corruption, she emphasized the importance of having clear and objective indicators that tell whether a country is changing or not. This strategy includes measuring: – The percentage of people who get favoritism in contracts from the government (public procurement) because they’re connected (either politically or via bribe); – Favoritism in public service allocation to citizens, e.g. in policing, education healthcare, etc.; – Favoritism in transfers to sub-national government, i.e. choosing to fund local governments depending on whether they belong to the ruling majority and not on the acuteness of the need of the local population; – Favoritism in legislation: the designing of laws, which favour select few at the expense of the public good. In his presentation, “Using Big Data in Public Procurement to Detect Corruption & Collusion Risks”, Dr. Mihaly Fazekas underlined the tools and applications available in dealing with corruption. Tools included: red flags such as single bid submissions to public procurement tenders, government favoritism, political ties, and inter-bidder collusion. Potential applications for Bulgaria to use in measuring its corruption include: readily available data (TED data) and indicators, single bidding, simple risk indices, market shares, excessive spending on consultancy, and data collection, etc. Dr. Fazekas demonstrated a regional map of Bulgaria showing the distribution of single bidding at regional level, which largely confirmed widespread anecdotal evidence about favouritism in Bulgaria.   According to Dr. Nicholas Charron, including impartiality of the public administration and the extent to which services are applied equally to all people serves a strong purpose when dealing with corruption. In his report on the Quality of Government in 206 European Regions, he demonstrates that GDP per capita and unemployment rates often differ more within a country’s regions than between countries. The European Quality of Government Index (EQI) looks at citizen perceptions and experiences when dealing with corruption and quality of services. Education, law enforcement and health care are key measurement tools as opposed to customs and judiciary measures, which are more nationally driven. In Bulgaria, people rate education, health care, and law enforcement services among the lowest in the EU but there are also notable variations between Bulgaria’s regions, which leaves room for nationally driven mutual learning between them. Dr. Alexander Gerganov from the Center for the Study of Democracy closed the round table with a presentation on CSDs Monitoring Anticorruption Policy Implementation (MACPI) tool. MACPI allows policy makers to assess whether they have put anticorruption measures in place, which address the most acute corruption problems, and whether the implementation of these measures brings effective results. A time trend is needed to see how new anticorruption policies change the corruption pressure for different institutions.   This article was previously published here on the CSD’s website (Center for the Study of Democracy), where you can also find the roundtable agenda and powerpoint presentations: