Money is spent, gains are not always there to see

The “Black Book of Government Waste in Bulgaria” has already been published three times annually: in 2015, 2016, and 2017. The project includes collected stories about the waste of taxpayers’ money in our country. Some cases are just a matter of mere wastefulness–spending exorbitant amounts without an obvious public need to do so. Other cases offer examples of unaccountability on the part of government officials leading to poor performance and delays. However, there are other stories that raise suspicions of deliberate dissipation in the interest of specific individuals.

Bulgaria has been a member of the European Union since 2007 and has received an annual average of EUR 2 billion from European taxpayers’ solidarity funding ever since. This money is used to build infrastructure, improve the environment, support agriculture and businesses, and develop rural or urban areas. A substantial part of the investments made by central and local authorities have been enabled by inflows from the European funds.

Although EU spending procedures and controls are more stringent than domestic ones, instances of European taxpayers’ money spent the wrong way have also made it to the Black Book.

Dozens of semi-deserted Bulgarian villages got new sports facilities simply because there was European money available for it–yet there is no one out there to practice in them. The biggest Bulgarian cities have enhanced their mobility infrastructure with the help of European funding, but some of the transport information systems have yet to start functioning. Refurbished streets and other urban infrastructure are often found in need of additional repair immediately after their refurbishment was finished.

The highest share of European funding goes to agriculture and rural area development. In Bulgaria, however, it is not uncommon to see brand new guest houses staying empty and locked up – though the purpose of the funding was to bring tourism to these backward areas. Over the last ten years, various central and local government agencies have spent over EUR 100 million on eGovernment, but the lack of a centralized approach and a comprehensive strategy has led to overspending without a visible result.

All operational programs channeling EU funds into the country reserve money for publicity. These publicity funds have been dished out in non-transparent ways by Bulgarian ministries and have become a major source of revenue for some of the biggest media in the country. This has bred a culture of government dependence and explains why cases involving the  waste of EU funds have not featured in national media coverage nearly as much as one might expect.