On the 25th of October the Bansko elections 2015 will take place. The mud slinging between the previous and current politicians has been depressingly revealing. New accusations of corruption are released every morning. Our 9am coffee with the other mums on the school run has never been so exciting.
Simply put the accusations are that:-
1) The previous mayor was an incompetent thief who has lined his pockets and the pockets of all his friends and family with the hard earned bread of the starving masses.
2) The current mayor is an incompetent thief who is lining his pockets and the pockets of all his friends and family with the hard earned bread of the starving masses.
3)Anyone associated with the communist/socialist party is an incompetent thief who is lining his pockets and the pockets of all his friends and family with the hard earned bread of the starving masses.
4) Everyone else in politics wants to be a thief who will line his pockets and the pockets of all his friends and family with the hard earned bread of the starving masses when he or she is in power.
Some background to explain this sordid mess to someone living in a civilised country were democracy is a battle of ideals.
Why is this important?
I know, in the U.K. a town like Bansko would have 4 volunteers running the town hall and maybe a paid part time secretary. But not so in Bulgaria. All that streamlining and centralisation that took place in the U.K. hasn’t happened here. The layers and layers of bureaucracy in Bulgaria mean there is a huge amount of work repeated 3 or 4 times by various different offices. Jobs are made more complicated to encourage more people to work in the town hall, tasks are invented to keep these extra people busy and then more people need to be employed to hide the fact that half the staff are doing nothing.
So Here’s The Rub.
All these civil servants are there trying to justify their jobs so start getting involved in the day to day running of private business. The reason you the tourist are not being served by those 12 people behind the bar is because 11 of them are trying to fill out all the forms the 12th man needs to have to be allowed to pour you a beer. The reason you the foreign investor still do not have a pavement outside your apartment block is because all the municipal budget set aside for infrastructure has been spent on employing the civil servants in charge of inspecting pavements. New roads, new drains, parks and tarmac all these things could be done if only the town wasn’t so busy spending the budget on employing people to work out why these things are not being done.
And I haven’t even mentioned corruption!
A safe estimate would be that around 60% of the 20 million leva annual budget for Bansko is wasted. Now no Bulgarian to my knowledge has ever gone to jail for corruption. No Bulgarian civil servant believes he or any of his colleagues are corrupt. But James Hughes claims 60% of the budget is misappropriated. How is this possible?
Municipal contracts. Civil servants are underpaid, over worked and generally deserve more money, especially for doing difficult jobs. So skimming a bit off municipal contracts is fine. Back handers from contractors are an important part of making sure those civil servants get a fair wage. Where does that money come from? Well the contractor works on a basis of cost plus expenses and profit so if he has to pay backhanders his costs go up so the municipality has to pay more. Everyone who speaks to a municipal contractor wants his pound of flesh so the numbers soon add up. Before you know it Bansko town Hall is paying 1.8 million leva for snow clearing every year when the real cost of this job is less than 1 million leva. Is this corruption or commission for services provided? I can guarantee you the firm that wins the municipal contract wouldn’t have won it if those civil servants he paid commission to hadn’t received their commission so no this is not corruption.
Civil servants. Elections come and go, new teams come into power on a wave of support from local people who in turn expect their newly elected leaders to make good on their promises. Better lives, better jobs a new future. Well these are hard promises to keep. Well hard to make everyone’s lives better anyway. BUT what you can do is make your voters lives better, not all of them but the ones that you didn’t have to bribe deserve to have the promises kept. In Bansko to get into power you need 4500 votes, lets suggest for this argument that 500 of them were bought. So you don’t need to help these guys out. that still leaves 4000 people who’s lives need to be made better. Well let’s work that number down a bit because each house hold has probably got 5 voters in it what with Mum, Dad, 18 year old little Jonny,Granny and Grandpa so now we only need to find work for 800! So 200 jobs in the town hall means we are down to 600. Forestry contracts get you down to 400. EU schemes for agri business get you down to 200, the odd municipal contract and some shady land deals an before you know it you have everyone accounted for. Keeping your clearly stated election promises is not corruption either.
Incompetance . Here is the tragedy, construction companies squeezed too hard to employ good staff, town halls having to give work to the unemployable and a brain drain taking all the good workers away. Before you you know it the only person available to do the job is simple Cousin Fred who has difficulty doing his shoes in the morning and gets confused by big numbers like 3s or 7s. But that is ok because Uncle George is Fred’s foreman and he’ll make sure Fred does a good job. The problem is Uncle George is just an older version of Cousin Fred. Now the jobs are being done so badly that they need to be re-done every year. But this is O.K. as it keeps Fred and George in work and they’ll be loyal voters at the next election and round and round the circus goes…….
This has to stop. Bansko is one of the richest town halls in Bulgaria and has some of the worst infrastructure and civil management in Bulgaria.
So a group of us are standing for election. we are all pretty boring to be honest! Economists, programmers, hoteliers, teachers and linguists. Our candidate for mayor is even a hobbyist farmer for god’s sake. Between us we have lots and lots of “boring” experience in our fields. We don’t argue much, we respect each others opinion and work away at problems until we find the right solution.
We can’t fix Bansko overnight but believe that with a bit of transparency and accountability we can free up a lot of money from the Budget. This money will help. Cutting away a lot of dead wood should help too. Give it 8 years and Bansko will be a better place if we get the chance to work for the town for that long. This is not the most exciting political position in the history of Democracy but it is our position. A good dollop of Professionalism, Transparency and Hard Work and Bansko will be amazing.