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Budget 2023 puts state-funded institutions on the brink of survival

Photo: БГНЕС

Against the backdrop of the July heat, the heated arguments about the 2023 budget continue. By July 25, when the National Assembly must finally vote on the state's financial framework, a decision must be reached on the increase of income in the budget sphere. The 10% envisaged by the Finance Minister does not fit into the expectations of the qualified "working poor", who are literally suffocating under the pressure of galloping electricity, heating and food prices. In just one year, the prices of many food products have increased at the expense of incomes that cannot keep up with inflation. 

According to the leader of the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions in Bulgaria (CITUB) Plamen Dimitrov, there is money in the state and it can be directed to salaries, which are drastically lagging behind. That's why CITUB has organized a series of protests in front of the National Assembly with a request for a review of the allowance for employees in the budget sphere:

Plamen Dimitrov
"We have said a long time ago where the funds can be taken from," said Plamen Dimitrov in an interview with BNR. “Capital expenditure is inflated. 8.2 billion capital expenditures are foreseen in the budget, which in practice is adopted on August 1. As of April 1, the capital program was completed at BGN 1.8 billion. What normal person can think that about 6.5 billion BGN can be spent in the next five months? Either this money will be spend indiscriminately or it will not be spent, which is most likely to happen, or at least some of it will not be absorbed. Therefore, we think that BGN 500 million of them can remain, but not because we do not want them to be invested in capital costs. They are important for the economy, but time will not be enough, and the procedures for the implementation of the planned repairs and other costs will not allow this to happen by the end of the year. 

The Podkrepa Confederation of Labour also organized a protest in front of the parliament with demands for the imposition of a tax on excess profits, an increase in corporate taxes, the introduction of a tax-free minimum, the return of VAT to the standard levels for restaurants and gyms, etc., in order to guarantee revenues to the treasury. According to the economic adviser of Podkrepa trade union Vanya Grigorova, there is a difference in the demands of the two national unions, and that is why only Podkrepa trade union did not support the state budget. "Only we continue to insist that they should not lie to us with an additional BGN 200 million, while they rob Bulgaria with billions”, Vanya Grigorova says firmly. “Sofia is not Bulgaria, that's why we organized protests in the country as well":

Vanya Grigorova, economic adviser of Podkrepa trade union
"We insist, we fight to the last and we hope that MPs understand that the policy of bringing Bulgarian enterprises and working Bulgarian citizens to misery does not lead to anything good”, Vanya Grigorova pointed out to Radio Bulgaria. “We are not opposed to the set deficit of 3%, but it cannot be at the expense of the people. That is exactly what is seen in this budget."

According to the MP from BSP and member of the Media Commission Ivan Chenchev, there is an opportunity to increase the income of people employed in the budget sector:

"Of course, there should be an increase in salaries and you cannot imagine how easy this actually is”,  Ivan Chenchev explains in a special interview for Radio Bulgaria. “It is easy because only one proposal is made, voted on the first reading, voted on the second reading and we are done. So everything is a question, I wouldn't even say that much to the conscience of each one. Let's hope that still my colleagues inside the plenary hall have a conscience, or at least even those who do not have a conscience will have a political decision to increase wages. The bad thing is that there are so many neglected things in the public sector, that in every sphere people are really in dire need, which must be overcome only inside the plenary. With a budget of 70 billion per year, the job of a finance minister is to take care of the people in the country first, and we do that as a party. I believe that with good will it is achievable. Do not doubt that we will make these proposals.”

In response to the unions' claims that there is an opportunity to increase the incomes of employees in the public sector, Finance Minister Assen Vassilev confirmed to BNR that in reality there are additional funds in the budget:

Finance minister Assen Vassilev
"There are indeed reserves in the budget. All funds for the closing European programs are provided for, regardless of whether the projects will be completed or not. According to the requirements of NATO, all funds, including the capital program of the Ministry of Defense, are provided for in the budget, regardless of whether they have specific projects or not. The other projects that are committed are indeed refined, according to the planned projects for implementation. There is a certain reserve, but every request to raise wages leads to new requests, and we start pouring more and more funds into an unreformed public sector."

The issue with the so-called reforms, however, is quite equivocal. In many state-funded structures, the so-called optimization policiesare being carried out to such an extent that the work of the dismissed personnel is distributed among the workers, without properly affecting the payment of their labor, as provided for in the Labour Code. It even happens that qualified specialists cannot be found in the place of retired employees because of the low pay. This is also the case in the Bulgarian National Radio where there is no way to find qualified engineers for a salary of BGN 1,000. Therefore, the question is not only about the survival of all these structures, on which the functioning of the state depends, but also about their development, as an important part of the future of the country.

Ivan Chenchev
"I know about the tragic situation in the radio as well”, notes Ivan Chenchev. "We have discussed it constantly and also at meetings with the current director general and with previous ones, in the parliamentary culture and media committee, where I have been a member for seven years. I can see how everything depends on a show of hands in a committee or on pressing a button in plenary which, unfortunately, has so far doomed the funding of national television, national radio and the Bulgarian news agency to a miserable state, indeed. Their work is related to national security.”

According to Ivan Chenchev, real journalism is in the public-service media, where the school for journalists is. At the same time, the Bulgarian National Radio and the Bulgarian National Television continue to be financed per hour of program, regardless of the fact that their functions far exceed air time. These are the media that preserve the national memory, from the moment of their creation and beyond. They are the media that Bulgarians rely on to get reliable, independent information:

"For this reason, already in the 44th Parliament, we introduced a proposal for a Radio and Television Act, in which there was a special chapter on how public service media should be financed so that they are not dependent on the prime minister. We are ready to unite proposals with other parties, we do not hold any authorship, because we know it is extremely important. It depends on all of us whether we will have any journalists in Bulgaria in the future, because I see what is happening. I am a journalist myself and I really hope that there is some kind of justice so that the real, I would say, truth seekers can be appreciated, not just survive. It's a shame that qualified people, with experience, with talent simply live on the brink of survival. They should be appreciated because they are pulling the country forward."


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