The resignation of the social minister and the questions it begs

Photo: BGNES

At the end of the workday on 11 June there was an announcement that Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov had accepted the resignation of the minister of Labor and Social Policy Biser Petkov. Petkov has stepped down over as he has put it an inability to tackle tensions arising from the demands of parents of children with disabilities.

Protesting mothers from the tent camp arranged outside the parliament building said they were surprised because they had not demanded the resignation of the minister. They had rather demanded the adoption of the already completed bill on personal assistance. Posting on social networks protesters and their supporters described the resignation as a signal that the bill would not be discussed in parliament. Therefore they plan to launch a “major protest urging the government to step down.”

Apart from unexpected the resignation has begged some questions. This has been the second social minister in the three governments of Boyko Borissov who has left his office early. The first one – Ivailo Kalfin, left the Borissov-2 cabinet to run for the presidency and the current one has referred to his inability to handle a problem which though very important is not fundamental for the social system in the country. If it is true that in the course of talks with protesting mothers of children with disabilities Biser Petkov has expressed understanding and even good will for solving their problem, isn’t it right to speculate that his resignation is in fact a sign of big differences with the social policy of the government?

Biser Petkov has the reputation of a leading expert and manager in in the social sphere. Prior to his appointment in the Borissov-3 cabinet he had a long record of service in social and financial institutions and is an authority in social security. In 2016 he was elected for a second term in office as CEO of the National Social Security Institute. He has served as Chairman of the State Agency for Social Security Supervision at the Council of Ministers, and as Deputy Chairman of the Financial Supervision Commission and head of its Social Security Supervision department.

The day of the social minister’s resignation coincided with the news that the lowest monthly salary of teachers from 1 January 2019 will be up to reach 920 leva (460 euro) given a minimum salary in the country at 510 leva (255 euro). The change will take place under a new collective labor contract signed by the Ministry of Education with the teachers’ trade unions. Could we guess then that the resignation of the social minister is an expression of his disappointment with the partial generosity to certain professional groups at the background of scarce financial support for some socially vulnerable groups? And if society agrees with this, why an act of a cabinet minister sharing society’s sentiments should not be considered normal?

The opposition in the person of the Bulgarian Socialist Party has guessed that Minister Biser Petkov is the scapegoat for the helplessness of the cabinet to resolve a problem which has already been fixed across most of Europe. According to socialists supporting mothers of children with disabilities is a problem largely dependent on the Ministry of Finance and not on the Social Ministry. Solving the problem requires joint efforts of the social minister and of the ministers of health and of finance, as well as the personal commitment of the prime minister.

The prime minister has already acted by accepting the resignation of the social minister, but this also requires the sanction of parliament. Speaking for the Bulgarian National Radio Deputy Prime Minister Valeri Simeonov said that the withdrawal of Biser Petkov was untimely and that the resignation had not been coordinated with him. The chairmen of the trade unions – the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions in Bulgaria (CITUB) and Podkrepa Labor Confederation, have insisted in a letter to Borissov to review his decision for accepting the resignation. Recently the Bulgarian public witnessed controversial situations surrounding the resignation of Energy Minister Temenuzhka Petkova who did not leave office in the end. It was hard to predict what would happen next. An end to doubts was put by Prime Minister Boyko Borissov himself who said while on a visit to Izmir, “I leave him in the job!”

English Daniela Konstantinova

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