Budget Talk: a Striking Example of Partisan Behavior in Bulgaria
For weeks now the caretaker government of Bulgaria has kept reiterating public finances are in dire straits.
Alongside Finance Minister Rumen Porozhanov, interim PM Georgi Bliznashki and other fellow ministers have managed to turn the state of Bulgaria's budget for 2014 into one of the most contentious issues in politics here.
The final say in budgetary policy was also the bone of contention between socialist BSP, conservative GERB and liberal DPS during the last weeks of the resigned government in July. Socialist ministers had submitted a radical proposal that involved putting an end to what had been considered a sacred cow in Bulgarian governance for the past years: fiscal stability in terms of macroeconomic indicators.
It involved raising the deficit and the cap of state debt to tackle current gaps, mostly caused by a non-fulfilment of the income statement, and to address ongoing issues like the aftermath of the recent bank runs, for instance by boosting the Deposits Insurance Fund (BDIF).
Socialist MPs however vowed to resist the step and so they did. What conservatives made was less expected, though: while fully embracing it at first, they made a U-turn to avoid suspicion they were preparing for a coalition with the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS), whose lawmakers also threw their support behind the overhaul.
All the time President Rosen Plevneliev had gone on urging that amendments be adopted even if it had to be done at the eleventh hour of the government, since Bulgaria would be facing tough financial challenges if it failed to allocate more money to sectors such as healthcare and finance.
It was just a few days after additional grants were only approved for the National Health Insurance Fund (NZOK) and Parliament was officially dissolved that President Plevneliev and the newly-appointed caretaker government started to raise public concerns about the budget and pledged to draft a proposal it would submit to the next Parliament.
But the "pro-update" camp went even further, with Plevneliev slamming at the previous government by saying it "deliberately" miscalculated the budget statement.
Having in mind he used a cultural event called "Read with Me", involving many children, to voice his opinion and call for an overhaul (even though such calls are reiterated by officials on a daily basis), it seems even the children should be made aware there is no money in the state and this situation has been caused advisedly.
Given the divided expert opinions on the matter, to state a final position here whether the fiscal plan "should" or "should not" be updated would be pure speculation. Somewhat ironically, many (former cabinet officials included) remind that Bulgaria has had worst budgets and yet has survived.
The President's critics coming from a number of fields might have a good reason to suspect the Finance Ministry is not telling the entire truth. While the socialist-liberal coalition of Plamen Oresharski was governing Bulgaria, he tended to veto many of the motions passed in Parliament or to attack key positions of the main ruling Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) on issues of foreign policy including South Stream and Ukraine.
Many accused him of adhering to what they called his "usual partiality" and of siding with then-opposition Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB), the party that raised his bid for the Presidency back in the summer of 2011, also the one that was in power during that period.
He even publicly endorsed anti-government protesters, questioning the President's functions as representing the unity of the Bulgarian nation. Neither was the most recent attack on the BSP-DPS cabinet about their budget backed with precise arguments going beyond the claim that one usually overwrites the income statement in order to have a free hand to spend more.
To question the credibility of some attacks carried out by "his" caretaker government (the one he appointed in August) on the former cabinet is therefore not unexpected, as trust in the complete transparency of public spending is traditionally low.
What is more alarming, however, are the implications if Plevneliev and the interim government's estimates are correct.
If they are, it would be hard to explain to voters why GERB renounced the budget update when it had the chance to do the opposite, with a number of BSP MPs ready to split from their party's position and pass the crucial bill.
But even if the everyday announcements that Bulgaria's public finances are jeopardized by a flawed budget are just a tool to put the idea that "there is no money" into voters' heads and to instill a feeling that the BSP led public finance to a collapse, it is hard to imagine that the main narrative of the interim cabinet will do to withdraw any ballots from the socialists.
The first more plausible answer that comes to mind in this situation is that politicians are just used to dividing into (apparently) warring camps to make a good point for elections by either consolidating their place in power or bolstering their profile as opposition.
However, recently this has been the first time an entire field of governance, and not just a sector (energy) or a controversially conducted project (South Stream) is used for the infighting, and the impact of this is yet to be seen.
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