Mediapool Weekly: August 24 – August 30, 2019

Tax authority fined 5 million leva for personal information breach, DANS declares support for Ivan Geshev

Opinion:

Bulgarian drama with résumés, two ways

Two stories involving professional biographies entertained the Bulgarian public this week.

One was impeccable, the other comically failed what could only be called a childish attempt at falsifying below-average academic achievement. What is interesting is looking at them together. Although the two stories differ in every way (except having something to do with CVs), there is one element that binds them into a predictable pattern: the extraordinary disregard officials from the executive branch have for legitimate procedure.

In reality, as unrelated these stories might seem at first, they in fact belong to a much wider context. They are symptomatic of this government’s decade-long effort at degrading all value of rules and procedures and replacing them with spontaneous and non-systemic directives, entirely dependent on on-the-spot decision making by high ranking officials.

It is this consistent headpiece deprivation from this country’s governance, which gave us an unprecedented hack into the National Revenue Agency, a member of the European Parliament from GERB claiming the former has nothing to do with cyber-security (Bulgaria is aspiring to take over cyber-security office at the European Commission), a future Prosecutor General voicing his view on national television that he is not such a hardline supporter of the division of powers, and the budget for public relations’ to be larger than the budget for IT support in one of the country’s key digital infrastructures (which, of course, collapsed last year due to disc defects) to name just few, which pop to mind from recently.

Plamen Georgiev, the former head of the Anticorruption Commission, who got recently appointed as consul to Valencia, probably does not know Spanish. And this would not have become such an issue if the Foreign Ministry didn’t state he not only had command of the language but it was one of the reasons he was chosen for the job. This caused some amusement as the level of Spanish Georgiev has declared in his resumé in Parliament is A2. In reality, his appointment is merely a bonus for his obedience as head of the Anticorruption Commission, after it was apparent, he could no longer keep the post.

After ending up one of the key actors in the so-called ApartmentGate scandal he went on forced leave of absence while the state body he headed investigated him for a possible misconduct. Misconduct of the principal kind the Anticorruption Commission was established to counter. The commission didn’t find anything, naturally. Even Georgiev’s deputy, who took over the probe had similar discrepancies in his own tax returns as the ones Georgiev was investigated for. We have claimed many times in this edition that the Anticorruption Commission, along with the specialized court and prosecution have long since stopped pretending to be unbiased agents of the law.

When he resigned his post at the commission, he said he would be returning to the Prosecutor’s Office. He was appointed for about a week before the Foreign Ministry announced he will be replacing the current consul in Valencia. There was a sharp backlash both in Bulgaria and from Bulgarians in Valencia, a petition and promises for further protests. 24 hours Daily, a government-friendly paper doubled down and published a certificate for level B1 Spanish with Georgiev’s name on it.

Funnily enough the certificate in question was dated before Georgiev’s resumé on the Parliament website. As if he had hid from Parliament the fact that he is not a beginner in Spanish but lower-intermediate. For whatever reason. If this was not enough, a university Spanish professor came forward declaring the certificate was full of mistakes and contemplated that it must have been done with the help of an online translator. Adding that Google Translate is not well versed in the Spanish-Bulgarian language double.

Enter PM Boyko Borissov. There are “thousands” of appointments like this, he said. Cornered by reporters questioning Georgiev’s qualification for the post, Borissov tried to close the issue: “We made the decision, we sent him in Valencia to be consul”. President Roumen Radev suggested over the weekend there must be a reason for the PM to be so eager and determined to send Georgiev so far away.

In any case, it goes to show how government-appointed positions tend to be given away to close allies with no regard whatsoever of the job and its requirements. As a last resort, a friendly media outlet could always break some story to support the cause.

Parallel to the comedy that is the government doubling down on Georgiev having any qualification for the job, another resumé-related absurdity emerged. As a side not, I must express my hope that this kind of thing got such a wide coverage because it is summer and there is not much news to report.

The world-renowned Bulgarian opera singer Darina Takova wrote a rather appalling in some ways, post on Facebook, saying she wanted to teach at the music high school in Sofia. The principal of the school told her she could not appoint her unless she went through the proper procedure, which involved her singing in front of a committee. Takova was scandalized. After all, shed had sung in some of the best opera houses in the world and here is this mid-level bureaucrat telling her she must be judged by high school music teachers who possessed neither half her talent, nor experience. So, took to Facebook to rant about her disgust.

Unfortunately, there is no consensus in Bulgaria for such cases: on the one hand, someone so qualified should be more than welcomed to teach highschool kids, and should not be put through ‘normal’ procedure. On the other, while – as the previous story shows – any position could be taken by anybody, regardless of qualification but (and this is a crucial ‘but’) only provided he or she has the appropriate political backing. In any other scenario, punishment is harsh and imminent. An example, which comes to mind: former Mladost mayor Dessislava Ivancheva and deputy Bilyana Petrova sentenced 20 and 15 years in prison for asking for a bribe (not guilty for receiving though). In the case of the music school, however, what would have happened had the principal appointed Takova is much simpler. And it would be fair: anyone else competing for the spot would sue the principal for not following procedure.

Enter Minister of Culture Boil Banov. Please note how whenever an official from the executive branch emerges in a story, they do so like a bull in a china shop. This is not a coincidence.

Over the weekend the minister wrote on Facebook that he will be expecting the principal’s resignation on Monday. What does a minister calling for someone’s resignation on Facebook tell us about his understanding of the institution? And even more to the point: how could a minister demand a resignation because someone refused to break the rules of the organization they head? Is he fishing for likes?

The principal and the minister met to ‘talk’ after and emerged on the other side of this mess with a resolve. The minister apparently got schooled on the rules and that it is against the law to fire people for following them. The principal will remain. Takova will be invited to teach at the school. Disaster avoided. The only thing missing was a possible solution from the minister: a proposal for how to deal with cases like these. But this must be above his paygrade.

What is abundantly evident from these otherwise entertaining stories is the total contempt this government has for proper conduct. And it explains why the only thing this government respects enough to pay a lot of money for is PR.

In other news:

NRA fined 5 million leva for personal information breach

A bank gets thirty-times larger fine for similar violation

The Commission for the Protection of Personal Information has fined the National Revenue Agency 5,1 million leva for the unprecedented data breach, which compromised the personal information of almost every Bulgarian adult. The commission could issue a fine as high as 20 million but the commission’s head Vencislav Karadzov told bTV that 5,1 is enough of a punishment and that its purpose was to prevent the NRA from repeating the mistake.

The commission conducted a month-long investigation, which has concluded that the personal data of 6 074 140 people was compromised as a result of the breach; 4 104 786 alive. NRA has already appealed the fine in court.

Meanwhile, news broke that DSK Bank had compromised the personal data of 33 492 of its clients. The bank had disclosed personal information to third parties. The commission fined DSK bank for 1 million leva. DSK Bank announced it will not appeal the fine.

The discrepancy of the fines for personal data breach per person between the NRA and DSK Bank is more than 30 times over. Karadzhov was asked about the reasoning behind such an enormous gap. He answered that the difference comes from the fact that in the case of DSK Bank the data was not only leaked but subsequently misused while the NRA was hacked but there is no telling for now how much data (if at all) is misused in any way.

DANS declares support for Ivan Geshev

The State Agency for National Security (DANS) followed in the footsteps of the Ministry of Interior and others and officially declared support for the nomination of Ivan Geshev for Prosecutor General. Geshev is running unopposed but his candidacy received sharp backlash from the public.

Dimitar Georgiev, the head of DANS wrote in an official position for the organization that under Geshev’s leadership if the Specialized Prosecutor’s Office carried out a number if successful investigations spanning from counter-terrorism to money laundering, to EU funds fraud, tax fraud, corruption and more. The position further reads that “the results [from these] are visible both for the Bulgarian citizens and our European partners”. He did not name any investigation in particular, though.

This is the consecutive letter of support from the executive branch the Supreme Justice Council receives for Geshev’s candidacy.

Whoever is organizing this unprecedented support campaign, however, fail to understand that the more open support a prosecutor receives from the government, the more questions emerge as to his or her biases and dependencies. Unfortunately, the Supreme Justice Council, whose majority is made up of prosecutors and members from the parliamentary quota, does not see anything irregular.

Protesters take to Struma highway in support of illegal dumping ground

Employees of Fenix-Dupnitsa Ltd. Went out in support of their boss, Kolyo Iliev, who ran the illegal dumping ground under the Struma highway. The dumping ground caught fire earlier this month, which damaged the pillars of the road, ultimately causing it to close down for repairs in the high season. The protesters claim that the fire was not Iliev’s fault and that the garbage underneath the highway is someone else’s not Fenix-Dupnitsa’s.

In fact, Fenix-Dupnitsa had a permit to store waste under the highway, although it is forbitten to use the space under a highway for such purposes. The permit was issued by the Ecology Ministry. The minister highlighted last week that the permit was for storage and not for a dumping ground.

The protesters in turn argue that the dumping ground for which the company has a license for, should remain and that the company is crucial for the local economy. They claim further that the waste that is beyond the area, covered by the permit is not Fenix-Dupnitsa’s.

Yordanka Fandakova and Maya Manolova announce if they’ll run for mayor next week

Yordanka Fandakova (left) and Maya Manolova (right)

National Ombudsman Maya Manolova and Sofia Mayor Yordanka Fandakova will both announce whether they will run for Sofia mayor next week. Speculations about both candidacies have been stirring for the past months.

Current mayor Yordanka Fandakova seems to be campaigning, as is Maya Manolova, the national ombudsman. However, neither have denied or confirmed they will run. Subtle indications that they both intend to have been consistently mounting.

Fandakova implied that if she runs, she will gather a new team and contemplating new ideas. Manolova, in addition to taking part in protests against development projects in the city, published her annual report as national ombudsman almost four months in advance. Asked about why, her office cited heightened public interest in the ombudsman’s work: trivial, yet unlikely.

The upcoming local elections in Sofia are crucial for GERB’s continuing reign over Bulgaria. Sofia has been governed by GERB since 2005 with Boyko Borissov as first GERB mayor. Sofia is the heart of GERB’s power and a symbol of it.

Fandakova’s support has been declining recently with the failed renovation projects throughout the city. At the same time GERB as a whole is losing political momentum. Although Fandakova (if she runs) might still very well win, for the first time the campaign period will matter and a shift is possible.

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