The country score for Bulgaria on the criterion “integrity of lobbying” is only 25%.
Transparency of lobbying must be embedded within a broader public sector integrity framework. This would mitigate the risks of conflicts of interest when important decisions are being taken. Our research sought to find an answer to the following overarching questions about integrity: Is there a robust ethical framework for lobbyists (including companies) and lobbying targets in the country? To what extent is it working? Is the onus for integrity placed on both lobbyists and public officials/representatives?
Data shows that significant improvements are needed in the overall legislative and procedural framework that is aimed at ensuring integrity in the public sector in Bulgaria.
Unpacking the results – why does Bulgaria do so badly?
The study assesses the integrity of lobbying activity using the following indicators:
- Post and pre-employment restrictions: 33%
- Code of conduct for public sector employees: 42%
- Code of conduct for lobbyists: 0%
- Self-regulatory code(s) of ethics: 25%
The full potential of self-regulation is far from being utilised to foster the integrity of lobbying. A robust ethical framework for lobbyists (and companies) and lobbying targets in the country is not yet in place in Bulgaria. The onus for integrity is insufficient both as regards to public officials and representatives, and those who lobby them.
Annually members of parliament and public servants in the National Assembly are required to fill in declarations on conflicts of interests and report on their assets. For the first time, legislators were sanctioned in accordance to the Conflict of Interest Prevention and Ascertainment Act. Two MPs were fined for not submitting declarations. In addition, three MPs were sanctioned for failing to comply with the Conflict of Interest Prevention and Ascertainment Act by filing a conflict of interest declaration on a specific occasion (art. 12 (4) and failing to file an abstention (Art. 19 (1) in the process of preparation, discussion and adoption of legislative acts. The decisions adopted by the Conflict of Interest Prevention Commission show that as a result of ineffective parliamentary practice in this area 4 pieces of legislation have been adopted in favour of private interests since 2011.
There are still no effective rules on gifts and hospitality for legislators. Whilst some internal institutional practices have been developed in response to persistent public pressure, they are still far from addressing the major legislative deficits in the area of integrity mechanisms: a Parliamentary Code of Ethics and regulation in the area of lobbying. The lack of adequate regulations is compensated by ad hoc and ad hominem decisions on a case by case basis referring to the laws on conflict of interests and public disclosure of assets. These however cannot create the premise for a complex solution to the existing systemic problem in the area of public sector integrity.
While certain post-employment and pre-employment restrictions do exist, they do not provide optimal guarantees for integrity. The Conflict of Interest Prevention and Ascertainment Act provides for a one year cooling-off period. It should also be mentioned that the internationally established good standards in the field require at least a 2-year cooling-off period. In practice, there have been a number of cases in which former members of parliament, senior public servants, ministers and ministerial advisers have moved directly into the private sector without a preliminary opinion by the oversight body. There is no mechanism to provide formal permission to many former public servants to take up a position in the private sector where they could lobby their former employer. The existing legislation does not provide for effective control over the cases where former members of parliament, senior public servants (including in regulatory bodies), members of the executive (national and subnational levels) and advisers take up position which allows them to lobby their previous employer. Under the Conflict of Interest Prevention and Ascertainment Act, an independent Commission for prevention and of conflict of interest has been established, acting as a collegiate body. However, its functioning shows a contradictory practice regarding the adequate oversight of the restrictions provided for in the law. As a result, the existing legal framework fails to achieve the expected effect of prevention.
The existing codes of conduct for public sector employees do not reflect specific ethical lobbying guidelines (i.e. standards on how public officials should conduct their communication with interest groups, a duty of documentation of contacts, duty to report unregistered or unlawful lobbying to superiors). The codes of conduct only partially address conflict of interest, gifts and hospitality issues. They also address asset declaration issues but in a piecemeal and insufficient manner. The existing complaint mechanism allowing public officials and citizens to report violations of the public sector code of conduct has a limited scope. Training and awareness-raising programmes for public officials on integrity issues, including lobbying rules and guidelines, are insufficient.
There are no existing legal requirements and regulations concerning the integrity of lobbyists. No statutory code of ethics for lobbyists exists. Therefore, no sanction mechanism can be applied for failing to respect lobbying integrity principles.
Some broader self-regulatory framework does exist. Some professional and business associations provide complaint and sanction mechanisms. However, such mechanisms are not particularly targeted towards unethical lobbying. Hence, a robust sanctioning mechanism is not always in place.