Lyuben Tatarski, Bulgarian MP from Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (CEDB) and Chairperson of the Regional Policy and Local Self-Government Committee with the National Assembly, in an interview for Radio Focus.
Focus: Mr Tatarski, how would you describe the work of the Regional Policy and Local Self-Government Committee with the National Assembly over this past parliamentary season?
Lyuben Tatarski: With two words – very busy. Over the last month we had extraordinary sittings of the committee every week; because a lot of serious draft bills were piling up and they had to be passed on first reading at least, before the summer break. We also started the preparation of the bills for second reading. I would like to mention a couple of the bills – for amendments to the Spatial Development Act, Water Act – in connection with the water and sewerage sector, Black Sea Spatial Development Act, and others. To summarise – we were very busy.
Focus: Were these the main draft bills, discussed in the committee?
Lyuben Tatarski: I could say that these were the most important ones, and ones with biggest volumes. Each bill is important. The Civil Registration Act, which was passed, and many other acts were also important, but the abovementioned were more vital. Apart from the Cadastre and Property Register Act, which was left for the autumn season, and which was also a very important act, we managed to discuss and pass the other very important ones. These are acts that concern each and every Bulgarian, so the discussions on them are very time-consuming. We were very careful and took our time, and thanks to the efforts of all the experts, we managed to do a very good job. We were not able to prepare the bills for second reading, but this should happen in September, or October.
Focus: What will be the main priorities of the committee after the summer break? What is on your agenda?
Lyuben Tatarski: We need to prepare the abovementioned bills for second reading, but I am sceptical whether these bills would be voted and passed by the end of the autumn season, as they will all be subject to lengthy discussions in the plenary hall. We are almost ready with filing the Spatial Development Act for second reading, but I will say it again – this is a very complex, difficult, and time-consuming act. I am sure that it will cause lengthy debates. After that we will continue with the Water Act, which will probably be changed considerably from its version passed on first reading, mostly because of the water and sewerage sector, as it is a very specific topic that needs to be approached with caution. The reform in the water sector must be made very carefully. We will also discuss the Cadastre and Property Register Act and the Black Sea Spatial Development Act. These are all very important acts, but there are also other acts that are in our agenda.
Focus: As a person with long experience in the sphere of local self-governance, as a former Mayor of the Razlog Municipality, how do you help municipalities? What are the main problems before municipalities this year? They are probably not that different from last year’s problems.
Lyuben Tatarski: They are not much different than last year’s problems, and as each year when we prepare the State Budget Act, we will try to come up with certain proposals, which could be adopted with the State Budget Act. We will try to mitigate their problems, which are mostly financial. I hope that this year’s state budget will be fulfilled more effectively than last year, so additional funds for the road rehabilitation and maintenance of the fourth class road network, and for other construction, rehabilitation, and maintenance projects. We are working together with representatives of the National Association of Municipalities in Bulgaria, in order to get their opinion on the legislative amendments we propose. There was a problem with the amendments to the Local Self-government and Local Administration Act, with regards to municipal councillors. We are now trying to come up with a solution for this problem, connected with the wages of municipal councillors.
Focus: Which municipalities are in more difficult condition? Which are in gravest need of state aid?
Lyuben Tatarski: The smaller, and mostly mountain area, municipalities have the most problems, as their revenues are very low and they cannot cover their expenses. The state has to pay more attention to such municipalities, when discussing the apportioning of the state budget, and also to try and direct more investments to such municipalities. The investment programme of the Bulgarian government is really strong, especially in the sphere of infrastructure, but this is not enough. I spoke with colleagues of mine, and explained to them that even if we made very small steps towards improving the condition of small companies, especially ones operating in smaller settlements, this would improve the condition of the settlements considerably. Such municipalities have serious difficulties with absorption of EU funds, as they have insufficient administrative capacity or insufficient funds for co-financing. This makes the situation in such municipalities even worse. So I think that we should direct more effort in this direction.
Focus: The topic for decentralisation has been discussed on a more regular basis recently. What should the rights of a mayor of a municipal parliament be?
Lyuben Tatarski: Usually such conversations are normal before elections – expanding the jurisdiction, giving more freedom, decentralisation, and after the elections everything is forgotten. I suppose that the current situation will not be very different. I do not see how municipalities could be given more jurisdictions, unless serious legislative amendments with regards to both central and local governance are adopted. Currently the local governments are considered as a part of the state administration.