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Bulgarian Watchdog NGOs report for August 2013

In this context we would like to recall that in July 2013 Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (BHC) (human rights protection) issued a press release concerning unlawful detention of few Syrian refugee families in the Special facility for temporary accommodation of foreigners (SFTAF) in Busmantsi in the outskirts of Sofia.

In the framework of its intervening and alerting functions, BHC released a statement warning that some citizens from the cities of Plovdiv, Blagoevgrad and Sofia who have been taking part in the anti-government protests were subjected to undue pressure on the part of the police (Article 12 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union). According to some of the participants, the pressure increased as since July 7th and took the following forms:

“During the peaceful processions they had been permanently videotaped by police officers, who had been doing so in a demonstrative manner and without giving whatsoever explanation (Plovdiv);

Many of the protesters were given orders under the Ministry of the Interior Act where their personal data and identification numbers had been completed in advance;

Many of the protesters were summoned in the police stations and forced to sign warning protocols without giving any reasons for doing so;

The identity documents and the personal data of the protesters are being requested systematically without being suspected in committing an offence or other acts disturbing the public order. …

Some protesters were detained in the police offices based solely on their failure to present identity document upon request;

Some of the protesters were verbally threatened by the police.

BHC expresses their strong concerns over the information regarding such acts of the police breaching the international standards for protection of the rights of peaceful assembly and to personal liberty and security. Such behaviour reveals harassment and has the obvious aim to provoke fear. Bulgarian law grants the police wide authority to establish the persons’ identity, to warn and to detain them in the police premises, and Bulgaria has already been convicted by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg in cases of abuses in the course of detention of persons. These police powers should be exercised strictly for the purpose of achieving a plainly defined legal aim and without affecting unnecessarily and disproportionately fundamental human rights as guaranteed in the Constitution and the international law. …”

In a press release dated August 7th, BHC informs of an official letter sent to the Minister of Health as to the appointment of a new head of the Institution for Medical and Social Care for Children “Sv. Ivan Rilski” in Sofia. BHC has been monitoring the children care institutions for many years. They cite the poor record of the new head who had in the past already been at the same position being subsequently retired. BHC recalls the reasons for the retirement of the head of the institution and further presents a flagrant case of a child placed in this institution:

“The most recent and extremely disturbing case dates back from 2011 and involves a 2-year and 8-months old child – D.R. According to information available to the organisation, this was the reason for the retirement of [the head].

[D.] lived in the [institution] from November 2000 until August 2004. On June 21st 2003 the child was admitted in [the emergency department] with blackened palm. The time spent by him with a hand tied to the bed remained unknown. Four days later he was operated – his right hand was amputated from the wrist. A few days later the doctors performed a second amputation – this time from the elbow. … No one has ever been convicted for the necrosis of D’s hand. Two hospital attendants and a nurse are fired in 2003. With a judgement of December 13th, 2007 … the three [employees] are found not guilty on the charges against them.”

On August 19th National Network for Children (NNC) (advocacy for and promotion of the child rights as guaranteed in the Convention on the Rights of the Child and Article 24 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union) published a statement on the Government’s decree project for amendment of the regulations for implementation of the Law on Family Allowances for Children. Welcoming the efforts for improvement of the legal framework in the sphere of the social support and social aid for the families, it nevertheless emphasises the necessity of an entire legal reform in this sphere which should bind the social aid policies with the general child rights protection mechanisms. They further note:

“… We still worry that the consideration of family and child payments happens separately from the entire child protection process. We think that approaches for synchronization of processes of services and support to families and social payments to them related to child care should be searched. … It is time the government policy from reactive and uneconomical to become proactive and cost-effective regarding the social assistance care. … The monetary support currently is not part of a complete approach assisting child and family, and this leads to a low efficiency. Proofs of this are the numerous cases of abandoned children and crumbling families.

Therefore, our fundamental position is that we need a complete reform of social assistance at the heart of which should be the principle of social benefits linking to social work. We believe that the payment supports should be granted after an individual assessment of the concrete family situation, which will address not only the income of the parents, the visit of a compulsory pre-school education and others, but will also consider all other factors that determine the ability of the family to care for their children.”

In implementing their expert functions by monitoring the existing laws and the law-making process, the Institute for Market Economics (IME) (the first and oldest independent economic policy think tank in Bulgaria elaborating and advocating market-based solutions) gave their comments as to the proposed amendments in the Public Procurements Act, suggesting the creation of some privileges for a particular category of participants, but namely specialised enterprises of people with disabilities which shall be the only participants eligible to participate in public procurements related to supplies of some specific categories of goods and services, such as supply of bedding, working and uniform clothing, some kinds of printing and small works services, etc. The author first recalls article 1 of the Public Procurements Act which states, among other things, that the state shall award public procurements aiming to secure spending efficiency towards the budgetary and non-budgetary funds. Further on, she notes that:

“… The award of the public procurements seeks to achieve the best offer for the performing of a specific task with the best quality and price conditions. This is not and must not be an employment program for people with disabilities or social aid for people in need. Yet the state performs its social role to the disadvantaged people in other ways…

A legislative amendment like this, leading to deliberate elimination of the competition and privileged treatment of a group of companies, would be entirely discriminatory.”

The article further reviews the guidelines provided by the Commission for Protection of the Competition, which prohibit laying down requirements in the public procurements which are discriminatory or which limit the competition. Reference is made also to the EU legislation in the sphere of the public procurements, whose fundamental principles are equal treatment, non-discrimination, efficient competition and transparency. The proposed amendment would also be discriminatory to the detriment of the people with disabilities as statistical data reveals that only 0.6% of the people with disabilities are employed by the existing 129 specialised enterprises for people with disabilities which meant that all other companies which also employ this category of people shall be denied access to certain categories of public procurements. Finally, such amendment shall reinforce presently existing lack of efficiency and will cast additional doubts as to nepotism.

In August Access to Information Programme (AIP) (facilitates the enjoyment of the right of the citizens to access to information as enshrined in article 41 of the Bulgarian Constitution) (Article 11 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union) made a statement on the draft Partnership Agreement of the Republic of Bulgaria on the support from the structural and investment funds of the EU for the period 2014 – 2020. AIP suggested that the following measures to be included and supported by the Partnership Agreement in the sphere of the access to information:

-Establishment of an independent state body – Information Commissioner responsible for the coordination and the monitoring of the access to public information as a whole;

-Establishment of specialised structural units responsible for the implementation of the obligations under the access to public information regulations;

-Measures for prompt online publication of all drafts for amendment of statutory regulations, etc.

28% of the entire population and 34% of the adults are denied free access to health care Mr. Katzarov of the Centre for Protection of Rights in Health Care (CPRHC) alerted in an article published on August 9th, 2013. The author presents statistical data as to the number people who are not covered by the health insurance system which revealed deeply disturbing trend of sharp increase of the number of people dropped off the system due to failure to pay their health care contributions. The people deprived of free access to health care are among those who work abroad or, although working in the country, are employed in the so called ‘grey economics’. Two main reasons were behind this dark picture, according to the author: first, the increase of the amount of the contribution adopted in 2009; and second, the general dissatisfaction from the quality of the health care and the lack of proportionality between the contributions to the system and the quality of the services provided against these contributions.

Logo funduszy szwajcarskich, Ecorys oraz Euroregion Bałtyk.

This text is a result of a research prepared within the project “Powerful Watchdogs” supported by a grant from Switzerland through the Swiss Contribution to the enlarged European Union. The report aims to show the up-to-date information regarding activity of watchdog organizations in a given country. The author refers to the classification on watchdog functions, to the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and the international concepts of the transparent governance.

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