RODERICK MOORE : CORRUPTION ERODES BULGARIA'S IMAGE
Mr. Moore answered questions of Martina Iovcheva.
Q: What are the current top priorities of the United States in the fight against terrorism?
A: The struggle against terrorism is being waged on many fronts. Certainly there is a military component, the effort to neutralize the terrorists wherever they are and prevent them from killing more innocent people. But we must also go after terrorists financial assets, which they use to support their attacks. We are now entering what President Bush calls the "second phase" of the war on terrorism -- working to prevent terrorists and the states that support them from acquiring weapons of mass destruction. At the same time we are striving to strengthen the world consensus against terrorism; solidify our friendships worldwide, including with Islamic countries; and seek permanent solutions to problems, such as between Israelis and Palestinians.
We are very grateful for the support Bulgaria has provided in the fight against terrorism. Your country has been a real partner of ours in so many ways. Bulgaria stood by us in our moment of sorrow after the September 11 attacks. And since then Bulgaria has worked closely with us to identify and freeze terrorist financial assets and to fight trafficking in narcotics, which funds terrorists and criminal organizations.
Additionally, the United States and Bulgaria are cooperating to enhance export controls and border security, as well as to curb the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the trafficking of small arms and light weapons. For instance, we just completed a project for USD 530,000, which involved the destruction of over 17,000 small arms and light weapons.
Q: Do you consider prospects for US economic recovery to be optimistic?
A:The United States accounts for about 30% of world GDP, and is at the top in terms of per capita GDP. The U.S. economy affects the world by providing huge market demand, dynamic technological innovation, and financing for world development.
True, we have had problems such as the severe drop in the stock market last year, especially following September 11, and some corporate failures and accounting scandals. Nevertheless, our institutions -- political and legal as well as economic -- have been able to respond to crises and to evolve, and for this reason the American economy remains fundamentally sound.
Indeed, we have started seeing signs that the U.S. economy is growing again, business investment is rising, and prospects for corporate profits and employment growth are improving.
Q: In you opinion, in which areas should Bulgaria focus efforts to receive an invitation for membership at the Prague summit in autumn?
A: After September 11, we have a heightened sense of NATO as a community of values and as a vital collective defense mechanism. At Prague, the Alliance will be looking for new members who share a fundamental commitment to democratic values and who can help the Alliance to meet both traditional and unconventional threats to our security.
There are no strict "criteria" for membership in NATO. However, numerous U.S. and NATO visitors to Bulgaria have recently pointed to areas where they would like to see more progress. In preparing to join the Alliance, Bulgaria must first defend democracy at home by strengthening its institutions and maintaining an active and effective engagement against forces, such as corruption, which threaten to undermine democratic values.
Second, Bulgaria needs to complete the legislative framework for military reform, and continue to implement the solid military reform strategy to build a force that will be lean, mobile, and able to operate effectively with other NATO forces. The Allies will be closely monitoring Bulgaria's fulfillment of its Membership Action Plan (MAP) objectives.
Q: Is the international situation abroad favorable for Bulgaria' s entry in the alliance?
A: President Bush has made it clear that the U.S. is committed to enlarging NATO. Whether Bulgaria will be ready to receive an invitation will depend on Bulgaria's efforts to keep democratic institutions strong and implement the military reforms set forth in Plan 2004 and the MAP.
Q: Will internal tensions within the ruling movement have influence on Bulgaria' s joining NATO?
A: Political debate is a fundamental aspect of democracy. As long as Bulgaria remains a stable democracy, and we fully expect it to remain so, we think that internal political tensions are expected in democratic governments.
Q: You have said that combat with corruption needs to be intensified. What specific measures should be undertaken in the fight against bribery?
A: The issue of corruption is important/ first and foremost for Bulgarians themselves. Corruption erodes confidence in public institutions, including the police and judiciary, but it also erodes Bulgaria's image in the eyes of its friends abroad. Ultimately/ all Bulgarians -- not just politicians and judges -- need to take responsibility for the high level of tolerance of white collar crime.
There are several concrete steps that are worth considering. First and foremost, Bulgaria's judicial officials -- especially prosecutors and judges -- should more aggressively enforce existing anti-corruption laws and punish transgressors. Other institutional measures are also worth consideration. These include creating "internal affairs" or "inspector general" offices within government agencies to respond to public complaints of corruption, to investigate, and to discipline or initiate prosecution of fraud, waste and abuse. While it is up to Bulgarians to decide how to do this, many observers also note that reforms should address the over-broad immunity of magistrates and the weak capacity of the Supreme Judicial Council to discipline judges for inefficiency or corruption. They also suggest that it would be a good idea to pass laws to tighten financial disclosure requirements for public officials and to allow the seizure of illegally acquired assets.
Q: What do you think Bulgaria's economic and political prospects are? In your opinion, which is the biggest challenge Bulgaria faces today?
A: Bulgaria's prospects are good -- everyone agrees the country has potential. I have already witnessed tremendous progress in my 12 years of following developments in this country. There has been great progress since 1997, and the new government is clearly committed to moving the country forward. But to overcome its basic problems of high unemployment and low incomes, Bulgaria needs to improve the political and legal framework for promoting economic growth
Of course, Bulgaria has had notable successes lately, including a declining foreign debt, the successful Eurobond issues, an IMF agreement for a tight budget, steady growth and low inflation, an effective currency board, and an improved credit rating. These are all positive signals to prospective investors.
But economic analysts agree that Bulgaria still needs to do more to restructure its industries to reduce government subsidies; create a legal environment to enforce contracts and WTO rules; improve conditions for small and medium-sized enterprises; and combat organized crime and corruption.
Q: Could you describe Bulgaria in three words?
A: Promising, progressive partner.
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