#ApartmentGate lingers still: Borissov unofficially takes over the campaign from Tsvetan Tsvetanov
Tsvetan Tsvetanov, who had to resign his seat in Parliament amid the revelations he is at the center of the ApartmentGate scandal kept his post as chairman of GERB’s campaign. It seems, however, that the damage from the scandal reaches much farther than GERB had anticipated, or Borissov has become cold towards his Number-Two, Tsvetanov, or maybe, indeed, both.
While Tsvetanov remains at his chairman position, the actual front row campaign efforts keep coming from the PM himself. According to Mediapool sources, not only that but doing this alternative campaign is not managed at all by Tsvetanov’s team. In effect, two parallel campaigns are in the works at GERB.
This might or might not affect positively or negatively GERB’s results, but what is certain, is that the two most powerful figures in the largest ruling party are finally at odds with each other. And as they constitute the core of GERB, this is an important indicator as to the future of the party, and especially, its inner coherence.
Feeling the need to step in at the campaign’s frontlines means one thing, and one alone: damage control. And the damage that needs controlling apparently is so severe that the PM has to take care of it personally. There is no higher power, so to speak, or a bigger and more valuable resources in the whole of GERB than the persona of its leader. And that Borissov could not be happy about having to deal with it, at all.
Sources tell Mediapool that the PM and his team are leading the campaign efforts, while Tsvetanov and his team are left with organizational tasks. And although these same sources insist that the split of the campaigns is not cause for any tension, we are still left to wonder how would this not affect the higher leadership of GERB in the mid and long run.
Tsvetanov really messed up this time, and this enormous gaffe, regardless of the whole PR army of GERB, cannot be spun out of sight from the Bulgarian public. And with good reason, of course. But this time both Borissov and Tsvetanov realize it.
This might be connected to GERB’s curious official declaration, which the parliamentary group’s current leader Daniela Daritkova read to Parliament several days ago, which states that GERB will not resign regardless of the results from the European elections. About ten days ago several polls showed that the ApartmentGate scandal might have a meaningful impact on GERB’s electoral support. If Borissov’s claims that GERB is set on finishing the mandate regardless of the European elections’ result is any indication, follow-ups to these polls might just have confirmed the trend.
Otherwise, it would be rather untypical behavior on Borissov’s part. If anything, he likes resigning and then winning the next elections by a good margin. Borissov knows fully well when he can afford snap elections, and when he cannot. It seems his odds are not looking too good this time around.
Sometimes these things just happen: electoral votes are not a given, and a party, even GERB, has a natural lifespan. And while it has been clear over the past two years that GERB has reached its seniority, the actual electoral picture reflecting this will come earlier than it might have, had this scandal not occurred. And while in the former case no one in particular could be to blame, the latter has a definite reason, and that is Tsvetanov himself. And, mind you, not due to some professional weakness or mistake in governnence. This gaff is a result of his misuse of power both as a legislator, and as a GERB high-ranking operative, for personal gain. In a sense he not only robbed public power and turned it into personal gain but he also did that in terms of GERB. And Borissov should be furious.
In other news:
Agriculture Minister Roumen Porozhanov said he is ready to resign
Agriculture Minister Roumen Porozhanov said he is ready to resign if PM Boyko Borissov request him to do so. According to Mediapool sources though, the PM is reluctant to remove the minister. Porozhanov recently became a key figure in the scandal, which reveled high-ranking officials had absorbed EU funds in order to build villas for themselves, which they packaged as subsidies for Bed&Breakfasts. In addition, the Specialized Prosecutor’s Office called him for questioning this week in connection to the charges against alcohol mogul Minyo Staykov for fraud with EU funds for agriculture.
Several days before the prosecutors issued the subpoena, PM Boyko Borissov said he would remove Porozhanov should the prosecutors, who are conducting an investigation into the B&B scandal reveal any irregularities. Porozhanov on the other hand expressed his full willingness to comply with whatever the PM decides regarding his post.
“Whenever the PM decides that [my actions] have a political impact, I will resign immediately.”, Porozhanov said after meeting with prosecutors.
According to the prosecutors Staykov and close associates of his have been extracting EU funds for agriculture illegitimately. Minister Porozhanov couldn’t recall whether he was on leave at the time Staykov’s project applications were approved for funding. He also said that there have never been signals for irregularities or wrongdoings regarding Staykov or his companies, and this is why, Porozhanov claims, there was never an inquiry into these projects.
However, such a claim is rather mis-informative, as it is the fund’s operator’s (i.e., in this case the Ministry of Agriculture’s) job to oversee that all spending and implementation of projects are done correctly and without irregularities. Its role is active and ongoing with regards to every step of the spending and implementation.
He goes further in his claims regarding the massive B&B misuses and says the ministry has not only controlled and checked regularly all the projects for irregularities but even over-checked. The minister has failed to explain in concrete terms what these checks actually entailed. But they somehow failed to detect that dozens upon dozens of B&Bs, which were built with the help of the fund, are only B&Bs on paper and instead are used as private homes.
The European Audit Office launches a probe into infrastructure projects in Bulgaria
The European Audit Office will launch a probe into road infrastructure projects funded by EU funds in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Poland and Spain. The scope of the probe includes roads, which are part of the trans-European transport network, the audit office announced.
The probe will focus on the progress in the development and construction of the sections of the trans-European transport network in these four countries and whether it is going to plan and on schedule. In case the auditors inspect an already finished road, they will check if those roads are properly maintained.
In the case of Bulgaria parts of the Struma highway and its tunnel Zheleznica, the southern arc of the Sofia’s ring road will fall in the scope of the probe, along with dozens of first, second and third-class roads and a railway connecting the towns of Elin Pelin and Kostenec, and the renovation of many railway stations.
The largest parliamentary opposition, the Bulgarian Socialist Party took the opportunity from the European Audit Offices’ announcement to say that they expect the AppartmentGate scandal to become quickly followed by a HighwayGate scandal after the probes begin.
“GERB’s policy in absorbing EU funds drifts [Bulgaria] away from the EU. The thefts, which they do in using EU funds is leading Bulgaria away from the EU and moreover, it is leading these funds away from Bulgaria”, BSP MP Georgi Svilienski said
The deputy minister for regional development from GERB, Nikolay Nankov was quick to answer that the probe is nothing more than routine and called BSP’s comments “impudent”.
The Anticorruption Commission has allocated 70’000 leva for someone to assess its efficiency
The Anticorruption Commission is looking for a private company to develop a methodology to measure the efficiency of anticorruption policies and their implementation. The procurement includes also an open platform for communicating with relevant stakeholders. The contract for both is valued at 68’000 leva excluding 20% VAT.
The money for the public procurement comes from the Internal Security Fund of the European Commission.
The methodology, which will be developed over a timeframe of five months, will include a biannual monitoring of the administration and an annual assessment of the effectiveness of anticorruption policies. The results from these assessments will be published on the open platform and will be openly accessed by everyone.
Medical professionals for the specialized pediatric hospital on consecutive protest
Doctors and nurses from the specialized pediatric hospital in Sofia organized their consecutive protest on Friday. They declared that if they don’t see real action being taken by authorities regarding their demands and consigns in the next ten days. they will cease to admit new patients except for emergency cases.
The protesters demand that their hospital be granted a special status, which would allow for the facility to receive additional funding from the state, for the threshold for admission of patients through the public healthcare system to be removed, and dignified pay.
For now, the government has promised to lift the thresholds and increase funding for treatment but they have not touched on granting the hospital a special status. The reason is that the government plans to open a special children’s hospital in two years’ time. Also, according to the Ministry of Health, transforming a hospital from one status to another is long, hectic and complicated; the protestors do not agree, however.
The deputy minister of health, Boyko Penkov, said in an interview the thresholds have been lifted but the protesters complained on Friday they are still experiencing the same problems with admission of new patients as before. The deputy minister claims the problems were merely a glitch in the computer system, and assured the protesters that IT support teams will be sent to the hospital to fix the issues on Monday.
Lawmakers pass controversial amendments to the Penal Code regarding homicide in self defense
Parliament passed this week controversial amendments to the Penal Code on first reading. The amendments practically legitimize homicide in any case of self-defense or defense of one’s property, no matter the proportions. The amendments were tabled by GERB’s coalition partner, the far-right nationalists from the United Patriots.
One year ago, when the amendments were introduced initially all members of the justice blanch – supreme judges, the Ministry of Justice and even the Chief Prosecutor – that the amendments effectively encourage homicides and are unconstitutional. This very unlikely instance of unanimity between magistrates and the ministry did not impress GERB in any way, though, and this week the first reading was passed unanimously with 106 votes in favor.
This is the consecutive ‘gift’ from GERB to the patriots in order to preserve the stability of the coalition. Especially given that GERB itself was against the amendments before.
The new provisions are a long-time cause of one of the parties within the United Patriots, VMRO. Back in 2012 the iconographer Yordan Opic shot a man to death in the back, while he was running away from Opic’s house, armed with a screwdriver. Opic received a 5-year sentence, which VMRO fought long and hard against, including a running a whole campaign for Opic to receive a pardon from then-Vice President Margarita Popova, which she refused.
NOVA TV fires Victoria Behar after asking about Delyan Peevski
NOVA TV fired Victoria Behar, who managed the strategic development office of NOVA’s new division. She was hired to take over the position just two months ago.
NOVA Broadcasting Group, which owns NOVA, has not issued an official statement yet regarding the change. NOVA was recently bought by the infamous Domuschiev brothers, who are close and cozy with power. The deal cast a shadow over the institution, which approved it: The Antimonopoly Commission. The commission blocked the previous deal, which had exactly the same parameters, except the buyer way Czech millionaire Peter Kelner. Shortly after, the commission approved the deal with the Domuschiev brothers, apparently forgetting about all its previous reasoning.
Just recently NOVA appointed a new head of the news division, a newswoman very close to Peevski. She headed the news at Channel 3 prior to her new appointment, whose editorial policy strictly follows the Peevski-owned media message. Her previous experience includes other high-ranking positions in media outlets connected to Peevski, his mother, Irena Krasteva or owner and former chair of the supervisory board of the since bankrupt Corporate Commercial Bank (KTB), Tsvetan Vassilev (at the time).
Svobodna Evropa reported that Victoria Behar had asked Miliyana Veleva about her connections with Peevski during a regular staff meeting. The overall consensus among observers is that her firing is a consequence of this line of questioning. Behar herself has confirmed she is no longer a part of NOVA’s team, but has refused to comment the issue any further at this point.
Just several days before Behar’s removal, another high-management position became vacant: that of Silvia Zurleva. Zurleva has taken various high-management position in NOVA over the past nearly 20 years. NOVA announced the news in an official press release but it does not make it clear whether the decision to leave is Zurleva’s or not.
It is very likely these are not the last two key changes in NOVA’s team under the new ownership, especially with regards to the news division.
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