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Does the Bulgarian Prime Minister Always Pay His Own Way?

June 21, 2010

Bulgarian Prime Minister, Boiko Borisov

The Prime Minister of Bulgaria, Boiko Borisov, trained to be a firefighter, served as bodyguard to the former king, and is a karate expert.  According to the Prime Minister’s Office, he also has not requested reimbursement for his expenses on official trips. Unlike most world leaders, Borisov pays his own way.

At least, this was the response to a Bulgarian Access to Information request filed by journalist Vesselka Venkova of the Bulgarian Duma daily.  In November 2009, under the Bulgarian Access to Public Information Act (APIA), Venkova inquired about the dates and destinations, types of transportation , and expenses paid regarding the Premier’s official domestic trips since his 27 July 2009 inauguration.

Venkova was granted partial access to the requested information. Borisov’s office surprisingly responded that the Prime Minister had paid by himself for the trips –implying that he had not spent any public money, and therefore was not required to disclose such information.  To prove this, the Prime Minister’s office provided a single receipt for 154.39 BGN ($102).  Borisov’s office also disclosed that memos had been written about each of the trips, that the Prime Minister traveled in the National Protection Service’s cars, and that he had also used the government airplane Falcon 2000 and a military helicopter. The response contained no information about the dates and destinations of his trips within Bulgaria.

Borisov boards the military helicopter on his way to the Greece border Jan 22, 2010. Photo from Trud Daily.

Despite the unsatisfactory government response, Venkova did not give up. She requested the assistance of the Access to Information Program (AIP), a Bulgarian NGO with 14 years experience with FOI issues. AIP helped her appeal the partial denial in the regional administrative court –the oversight body defined by the Bulgarian Access to Information Act. The Administrative Court – Sofia City ruled in favor of Venkova and ordered the Borisov administration to disclose the requested information.

In its judgment, the court stated that information regarding the Prime Minister’s official trips was public information under the APIA, and the public had the right to access it.

Venkova and AIP also appealed the administration’s “silent denial” of copies of the memos regarding the official trips. Eventually, Borisov’s Office granted access to memos for all official trips abroad –-information that had not originally been requested, but none-the-less included the names of all officials which accompanied the Prime Minister. Borisov’s Office again did not release information about the trips’ expenses.

In the spring of 2010, Venkova filed another request to the National Protection Service for information about Borisov’s expenses, as he had allegedly used the NPS’s cars.  The NPS denied access to the information on the grounds of national security.

On April 29, at a press conference,  AIP lawyer, Kiril Terziiski gave a statement, implying that this denial would also be litigated, because the Bulgarian public had the right to know the amount their Prime Minister was spending on travel. “We will most likely challenge that denial in court, as the cars of the NPS do not run with spring water – someone is paying for the gas,” he stated.

Despite this refusal to release travel expenses,  Borisov’s Cabinet had made some previous attempts to provide greater transparency to the public. In July 2009, it made its internal information system accessible online to the public. Minutes, protocols, and decisions can now be accessed on the web.  Because of these advances, AIP recognized the Borisov’s office at the 28 September 2009 Right to Know Day Awards Ceremony.  Despite this early enthusiasm, the administration’s commitment to FOI -as evidenced by the refusal to release information related to Borisov’s trips- appears to be dwindling.

Indeed, if the Prime Minister has paid for official trips from his own pocket, Bulgarian taxpayers cannot inquire about the amount spent. However, its doubtful that the Prime Minister can afford his frequent visits to Brussels, his border-crisis helicopter flights to Greece,  and his numerous public appearances throughout Bulgaria.  Recently, the Commander of the Government Air Squad stated that the price of one one-hour flight is about 8,500 Euro.

Bulgarians liken the burly Borisov to Sylvester Stallone and Chuck Norris.  But if he can truly afford to pay for his numerous trips at home and abroad with his own funds, perhaps a better comparison is Bill Gates.  If, however, the government is in fact paying for Borisov’s travels, then the Bulgarian people have a right to know the cost.

One Comment
  1. June 21, 2010 6:53 pm

    I really love this blog… Such great posts all the time!

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