PM Boyko Borissov’s press office announced Friday that the PM had asked Social Policy Minister Biser Petkov to turn in his resignation, which he did. Borissov accepted it and in less than a day Petkov ceased to be minister. His successor, Denitsa Sacheva was approved by parliament and sworn in the following Tuesday.
Borissov did not make any fuss about the firing, which struck as nontypical for the PM. The abrupt removal of the minister was not preceded by a scandal, as is usually the case. Borissov did not announce the move personally (also uncharacteristic of his otherwise abundant media presence persona). Instead he left the press release from his PR office to communicate the matter entirely. There was not anything particular cited as a cause for the decision, except “reasons” which had “piled up over a period of time.” In addition, a general displeasure with the pacing of the work of the ministry was mentioned.
According to Mediapool sources, however, there is a very certain reason, which sparked the PM’s rage to a boiling point. The now-former minister managed to include a 15% increase of social workers’ wages in next year’s budget, which is 5% more than the initially agreed upon 10%. The 5% difference will mean 5 million leva more in the social security budget.
The social workers demanded a 40% increase of their wages during a strike last Thursday. While salaries at the Social Assistance Agency average at about 1200 leva, some social workers work for minimum wage (560 leva per month).
Another possible cause for Borissov’s radical approach might be the follow-up documentary to Kate Blewett’s Bulgaria’s Abandoned Children, which she made in 2007. The film exposed the devastating conditions in a social care home in Mogilino, which housed children with disabilities. Blewett’s new documentary shows little has changed 12 years later. Bulgaria went through a long process of deinstitutionalization: a reform, which aimed to replace the institutions from communist times with protected homes. The homes were designed to be integrated into the community instead of isolated from it.
A recent report by Disability Rights International has said that Bulgaria has not done much more than swap one type of orphanages with another: the transformation is not substantial, only on paper. The Ministry of Social Policy has since issued an official statement it disagrees with the conclusions of the report, dismissing them as biased. The reaction hardly does anything to mitigate the international coverage on the topic, which has surely agitated the PM.
It should be noted that this is the second time Petkov resigns as minister of social policy. The previous time the resignation came as a result from the months’ long protests by parents with children with disabilities, who demanded legislative reforms. Petkov resigned, but interestingly, the protesters doubled their protesting efforts to demand he remain at the post, which he subsequently did. The protesters, which have since established the civil initiative The System is Killing Us (after the slogan of the protest movement) voiced their support for Petkov again, saying this was “this is the minister who finally launched a reform [in the sector], which was decades’ overdue.”
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