TI-Bulgaria expresses its disagreement with the discussed amendments to the anti-corruption law, which exclude municipal councilors from the ranks of senior public officials and will therefore not be obliged to declare their property and interests to the anti-corruption commission.

The anti-corruption and the illegal asset confiscation law was adopted on 19 of January 2018 and it has undergone five changes over the short one-year period.

The first changes, made in early March 2018, make the requirement to declare property and interests from municipal councilors for the end of the term of current local parliaments for the fall of 2019. The reason for this decision was that it was not appropriate for municipal councilors to learn about mid-term changes, and that a large part of them could not resolve incompatibilities in time.

The proposals for amendment of the anti-corruption law was submitted on 17.12.2018 at the National Assembly and during the discussion it propose to exclude the category of “municipal councilors” from the circle of persons holding high public office.

The motive they state is that the municipal councilors are too many (around 5400) in the municipalities and their number will block the system when they declare their tax declarations.

The bill’s proponents state that much more human and material resources will be needed, which will be significant, compared to achieving some specific positive result, when declaring this category of persons.

In connection with the upcoming discussion on the topic, we would like to emphasize the following:

Municipal councils plays the role of local parliaments and are constituted as a result of the most important instrument of representative democracy – direct elections. It is not logical to exclude municipal councilors from the scope of the anti-corruption law, but at the same time to consider heads of state-owned companies, budget organizations, public media, and others as high-ranking public officials.

Municipal councils have important functions in the local government system. They make the most important decisions related to the management of local communities, including determining development policies, rules for conducting local economic activities, allocating and spending public resources, exercising control over local authority and especially the mayors.

Concerning the fears that the anti-corruption agency does not have the capacity to check the declarations of property and interests of the municipal councilors, we have to take into account the following: The Commission for Illegal Asset Forfeiture has been established as an anti-corruption agency that integrates on the functions of the current ones – five independent structures with anti-anticorruption functions gather into one place.

The new anti-corruption law provides an adequate set of powers and resources to carry out its work. On the other hand on the Commission has been given a wide range of functions, extending the range of persons to whom it has carried out checks on declared assets and conflicts of interest. At the same time, the conflict of interest system was decentralized, with more than 1,800 independent bodies and committees at the local level identifying and sanctioning conflicts of interest for 120,000 employees instead of the central authority.

For comparison, in the period up to 2017, the Conflict of Interest Prevention and Identification Commission addressed the obligation to inspect these 120,000 officials.

Regarding the arguments about the inappropriateness of engaging additional material resources, TI-Bulgaria would like to mention that counteracting corruption is not an economic activity, but an important commitment of the government to its citizens and business.

The effectiveness of prevention and counteraction to corruption is not measured by simple calculations. Limiting corruption in all relevant areas of public life, creating an environment that does not allow its spread and providing normal conditions. Conditions for the activity of all citizens, economic entities, public institutions and public structures.

The exclusion of municipal councilors from the category of obliged persons who are supposed to declare their property and conflict of interests in front of the Commission for Illegal Asset Forfeiture is a very bad political and public signal.

We appeal MP’s to remember that effective prevention and counteracting corruption require an adequate legal rules which will make the work of anti-corruption institutions more effective and make them more transparent and accountable to local authorities.