MPs debated the new economic measures to alleviate the impact of the coronavirus crisis and the amendments to the budget all day Monday until late at night.
The question of MPs’ salaries - which were up for a scheduled increase - began with controversy last Thursday, went through a normalizing phase over the weekend only to flip turn suddenly at the very end in a surprising proposal from the majority.
Last week the speaker of Parliament Tsveta Karayanchev defended the increase and maintained freezing would be a populist move. Mere hours after Karayancheva’s remarks PM Boyko Borissov ordered the salaries be frozen, which quickly led her to apologize for insisting for the raise in the first place. If this was GERB sending out mixed messages, their position was consistent from there on in: salaries should stay at the level at which they are at the time. By then, over the weekend, many MPs apparently had developed strong opinions on the matter and would express them Monday, during the debates and vote.
GERB started off by proposing salaries remain at their current rate (3747 leva). The largest parliamentary opposition, the Bulgarian Socialist Party, proposed salaries be cut to where they were at the end of Parliament’s last session (2976 leva), small right-wing parties recommended MPs receive either half what they get now, receive minimum wage or nothing at all. After some very lengthy debates on what MPs should or should not receive as reimbursement, GERB finally doubled down and proposed MPs get no pay untill May 13. Going in from the most conservative position (freezing salaries), moving on to reject more moderate ideas (cutting salaries by some extent), GERB ultimately went all in and decided on the other far end of the spectrum, canceling pay altogether.
The amount the budget will save will go to a special fund the Ministry of Health established to help with the coronavirus crisis efforts.
Another point of increased public interest was the question of penalties for violations of the measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus. Since the legislation regarding the state of emergency was passed, the fine for any violation was fixed at 5000 leva. The measure received much criticism, for one, because it is fixed (no difference in the severity of the violation, nor if it is imposed for a first or subsequent offense) but also because it is disproportionally high compared to the average income in the country: minimum wage is 610 leva before taxes, while the average wage, according to the National Statistical Institute on a national level was about 1300 leva in 2019.
The new legislation provides for the same fine if mandatory quarantine is violated (mandatory quarantine is either if you have the disease, are a contact person of someone who is, or have entered the country from abroad). Violating other measures will result in a 300 to 1000-leva fine; second violations will result in fines ranging from 1000 to 2000 leva.
The amendments to the budget also take the national debt threshold for 2020 almost five times higher, to 10 billion leva. The idea was criticized by the opposition and the President as giving the government the freedom to take out huge loans without clear justification and plan how to use them.
Finance Minister Vladislav Gouranov promised the government will think about a special set of measures to help out businesses, which have been forced to shut down completely due to the restrictive measures to contain the COVID-19 spread. Meanwhile, the president of one of the largest unions, KNSB, Plamen Dimitrov told bTV today that 44’000 people have lost their jobs since Parliament enacted a state of emergency on March 13, which was extended last week till May 13. KNSB predicts unemployment will rise from the current 6% to 10% by the end of the year, or 330’000 people.
The coronavirus crisis response team announced the total confirmed amount of cases has risen to 549, 26 are in ICUs. 30 of the 549 infected are medical personnel, 22 have died.
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