Bulgaria PM to reshuffle his cabinet

Bulgaria's Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev launched talks on Thursday on reshuffling his cabinet to clean up its graft-tainted image and avoid possible European Union sanctions over rampant crime and corruption.

Bulgaria PM to reshuffle his cabinet
The EU newcomer is under pressure from Brussels to urgently show tangible results in fighting corruption and organised crime, or risk losing millions in aid from the bloc.

But a government facelift alone is not enough to kick-start reforms that have stalled since the ex-communist country joined the EU in January 2007, analysts said.

"These seem to be cosmetic changes, which aim at showing Brussels that something is being done and lowering public tension," said Kiril Avramov of think-tank Political Capital.

EU diplomats said Brussels wanted to see corrupt officials and criminals prosecuted and convicted ahead of a July assessment report on Bulgaria's progress.

The Socialist-led three-party ruling coalition launched consultations on Thursday to replace several ministers by May 1.

Local media quoted party sources as saying the agriculture and regional development ministers were likely to be replaced after Brussels froze some pre-accession farm and road funds on suspicion of fraud. The health, education, defence and administration ministers are also likely to go.

Stanishev, seeking to counter plunging popularity ratings ahead of elections in 2009, has said he is considering appointing a minister to control and coordinate all EU funds.

But diplomats and observers say the root of the problem is that many politicians and magistrates have links with criminal groups, some of which sprang from the former Soviet secret services. They say Sofia has so far failed to demonstrate the political will to cut those ties.

Interior Minister Rumen Petkov, a powerful member of the Socialist party, quit on Sunday over his failure to tackle organised crime and rid his scandal-tainted ministry of corrupt officials linked to crime groups.

A report by the parliamentary security commission said last week that police officials had passed classified information to drug traffickers linked to militant and terrorist groups.

Petkov has said he himself met two businessmen who were under surveillance by the organised crime police unit. The parliamentary commission report said the meeting was not in line with the ministry's rules.

Stanishev, whose government won a no-confidence vote on the issue last Friday, appointed Petkov on Tuesday to advise him on the planned cabinet reshuffle. Commentators said it was a sign the premier was too weak to carry out real change.

Stanishev has denied criticism about Petkov and quipped that his replacement should look like French screen legend Alain Delon, a symbol of male beauty in Bulgaria, to please people.

Surveys estimate corruption and crime cost the poorest EU nation more than 1 billion euros a year. But successive governments have charged no senior officials with graft and there has not been a single conviction for more than 150 contract killings this decade.
Last Mod: 18 Nisan 2008, 08:18
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