Bulgarian vice-president Iliana Yotova has thrown cold water on a new anti-corruption law that was passed by the Bulgarian parliament on December 20, saying “the law will not lead to the long-awaited justice for Bulgarian citizens.”
Yotova singled out a provision in the law that prohibits anonymous reporting of corruption as one of the legislation’s failings. Under the law, in order to make a complaint about corruption the person providing the tip-off has to has to give their full name, national ID number and contact information. Critics argue that this could have a chilling effect on whistleblowers as people fear they could be sued for defamation should their complaint fail to result in a conviction.
The cornerstone of the new legislation is the consolidation of several anti-graft agencies into one new institution to coordinate the country’s anti-corruption efforts. But this provision has also been criticised because the officials in charge of the body will be elected by parliament, raising questions about its independence.
A proposal by the opposition that the agency’s officials should be appointed by the president, who is supposed to be politically impartial, was rejected by the ruling coalition.
Another controversial provision of the law is that it authorises the new agency to wiretap suspects even though it has no investigative powers, meaning evidence obtained in this way would not be admissible in court.
The bill has also been criticised by Bulgaria’s president, Rumen Radev, who said he will use his veto to try to stop it from becoming law. “The instruments envisaged in this law are ineffective,” Radev said. “It does not deal a blow to those who feed corruption, and it can be used as a weapon against inconvenient people.”
The law was passed by the ruling GERB party and their coalition partners, the United Patriots, an umbrella group of nationalist parties. The opposition Socialists and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms voted against the bill, but the government’s comfortable majority carried the day.
The government also have the numbers to defeat any presidential veto.
Bulgaria is due to assume the presidency of the EU in January. Since joining the bloc in 2007 along with Romania, both countries have had to submit to annual reviews of their efforts to combat organised crime and corruption. In this year’s review which looked back at Bulgaria’s progress since joining the EU ten years ago, the Commission said that although significant headway has been made in recent years “overall progress has not been as fast as hoped for and a number of significant challenges remain to be addressed.”