5Watchdogs intervene for cancelation of the appointment and holding of new transparent and fair appointment procedure
On June 14th 2013 Bulgarian Watchdog organisations Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, Access to Information Programme, Institute for Market Economics, together with many other Bulgarian NGOs, signed open letter to the Parliament of the Republic of Bulgaria, expressing their disagreement with the appointment as Head of the State Agency for National Security of Mr. Delyan Peevski – a MP and alleged owner of numerous newspapers, electronic media and internet sites, known for providing controversial and politically biased information and suggestions. The open letter demanded for cancelation of the appointment and holding of new transparent and fair appointment procedure.
In an attempt to subdue the riots, on June 17th the Prime Minister invited representatives of all NGOs who have signed the open letter at a meeting, the invitation being almost immediately declined. Subjected to increasing criticism on the part of the civil society and nationwide street demonstrations, the Parliament withdrew the appointment a day later – on June 18th.
Bulgarian in European Court of Human Rights
“This is a national crisis” the European Court of Human Rights said in its Judgement of June 18th on the deaths of 15 children and young adults who had been placed in a home for physically and mentally disabled young people in the village of Dzhurkovo. The children and the young adults died during the winter of 1996/97 due to the extremely poor living conditions in the home. The court found that there had been violation of the victims’ right to live in that the respondent State had breached its obligation to protect the lives of the vulnerable children placed in its care and had failed in its duty to implement the appropriate procedural mechanisms, thereby failing to protect the public interest.
Elections Code – watchdogs’ voice on fundamental changes in the voting procedures
In a declaration addressed to the Parliament the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, among other NGOs, set aside the invitation of the Presidency of the Parliament to take part in the public discussions on the amendments of the Elections Code, subjecting its participation under the condition that the Government resigns and new early elections be scheduled for October 2013. A number of parliamentary and non-parliamentary political parties and civic groups expressed their arguments for the necessity for fundamental changes in the voting procedures, such as transition to majority voting system, decrease of the threshold for entry into the Parliament, facilitating of the participation of non-partisan candidates, etc.
On June 3rd National Network for Children contested the Government’s proposal for relocation of the State Child Protection Agency from the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy to the Youth and Sports Ministry as part of the structural changes proposed by the newly adopted government. In an open letter addressed to the state institutions the National Network for Children, together with 200 other NGOs, stated that the intended changes will bring the Bulgarian child protection institution in a position of conflict of interests and will prevent the effective implementation of the state policies towards children. National Network for Children alerted that: “Over 2000 children now residing in institutions in process of closure may be brought in risk if the Agency is relocated”.
As a result, the Government plans have been put on hold as on June 7th the Minister of Labour and Social Policy assured all NGOs involved in the matter that no change shall be instituted before discussions with NGOs and other interested persons are held.
On June 1st the National Network for Children launched the implementation of the project “Exchange and Cooperation for Children Welfare Improvement” financed by the Bulgarian Human Resources Development Operational Programme. The project activities fall within the scope of Article 24 (1) of the Charter of the Fundamental Rights of the European Union, providing that children shall have the right to such protection and care as is necessary for their well-being. On June 7th National Network for Children representative took part in a public discussion held during the meeting of the Public Council to the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy, focused on the policies towards the family and organised by the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy. The main point of the meeting was the need of establishing of special working group in the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy for elaboration of Policies towards the Family. The Executive Director of National Network for Children – Mr. Georgi Bogdanov shared the expertise of the Network by presenting the main accents in the Policies towards the Family. Annual General meeting of the members of the National Network for Children was held between June 13th and June 16th. New Executive and Supervisory bodies of the alliance have been elected.
On June 12th the Executive Director of the Institute for Market Economics (the first and oldest independent economic policy think tank in Bulgaria elaborating and advocating market-based solutions) Svetla Kostadinova took part in a meeting of the Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski with NGO representatives. Discussions were focused on the improvement of the administrative regulatory regimes and the public procurement legislation. The developments changed fast though, so that just two days later, IME joined the protest declaration against the shocking appointment of the new Head of the State Agency for National Security that took place on June 14th.
Photo from the protest. Author: Yvo Bojkov.
On June 6th the Economic Library of the Institute for Market Economics celebrated its third anniversary.
Access to public information
In June Access to Information Programme launched a one year project “Access to Information Programme – Civil Centre in Support of Transparency”. The project provides for permanent monitoring on the policies for granting access to information and an annual audit of the internet sites of the institutions. The right to access to public information is protected by art. 11 (1) of the Charter of the Fundamental Rights of the European Union stating that everyone has the right to freedom of expression including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. In a publication in the Access to Information Programme blog dated June 10th Mr. Aleksander Kashumov – Head of the Legal Department of AIP criticized the amendments in the structure of the national security services adopted by the Parliament three days earlier. The author’s major concerns are focused on the lack of any public discussions prior to the amendments, as prescribed by the law governing the legislation process and on the very essence of the structural changes adopted which may impair the system of the judiciary whose efficiency is closely linked to the work of the investigation authorities.
With its judgement of June 19th the Supreme Administrative Court quashed the decision of the Administrative court of the City of Sofia which had previously dismissed the complaint of the Centre for Protection of Rights in Health Care against the refusal of the National Health Insurance Fund to grant access to information requested by the organisation regarding life insurance contract signed for the officers of the National Health Insurance Fund. The Supreme Administrative Court dismissed the arguments of the inferior court instance that the information requested represented personal data that could not be disclosed to the public. Two more court cases backed by the CPRHC have also succeeded in court during the month, one of them being also on a request for access to information.
In June Bulgarian Lawyers for Human Rights Foundation launched a one year project “Enhancing the Guarantees for Access to Public Services for People with Disabilities”, supported by Foundation Open Society Institute. The project provides for permanent monitoring on the policies for granting access to information and an annual audit of the internet sites of the institutions. The project will be implemented in cooperation with the Center for Independent Living. The project is clearly linked to the following instruments of the Charter of the Fundamental Rights of the European Union: Article 21 (1) providing that any discrimination based on any ground such as, among others, disability shall be prohibited and Article 26 according which the Union recognises and respects the right of persons with disabilities to benefit from measures designed to ensure their independence, social and occupational integration and participation in the life of the community.
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.