Sofia, February 13 (BTA)
The Wednesday papers give prominence to the signing of a contract by the Road Infrastructure Agency with the controversial company GP Group for construction of a tunnel on a new stretch of Struma Motorway, and the release of a list of companies which have signed contracts with the state-owned Avtomagistrali and which are expected to participate in the construction of an extension on Hemus Motorway worth 1.5 billion leva.
"Douma" and "Sega" have the story on their front pages.
"Sega" says that in the year when "at least two elections are due [European and local], the power-holders are in a hurry to distribute the most lucrative contracts funded by the EU: for construction of transport infrastructure. GP Group which Prime Minister Boyko Borissov last year ordered removed from all projects using EU and national funding, signed a contract with the Road Infrastructure Agency to build the longest road tunnel in Bulgaria. In a separate development, the Regional Development Ministry released a list with the contracts signed by the state-owned Avtomagistrali and it shows that some of the work on the new section of Hemus Motorway, which is to be built, has already been booked by select contractors."
"Douma" says that the taxpayers' 1.5 billion leva will be distributed among some 50 private companies. The story says that the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) is not against the companies but against this way public resources are being distributed and the rules bypassed.
The Zheleznitsa tunnel story in capital.bg is entitled "The GP Group Catharsis is Suddenly Over with a Contract for Zheleznitsa Tunnel". The story opens with a quote by GP Group of last October when they announced giving up the tunnel contract in the wake of a scandal over syphoning of EU funding in the construction sector. "Several months later, this catharsis is over. GP Group and its partners Global Construction and Via Plan will be building the Struma Motorway tunnel for 185 million leva," the story says.
Capital.bg also has the story about the list of Avtomagistrali subcontractors ("Government Releases Sparse Information about Who Works with Avtomagistrali"). The author says that now each taxpayer should know the name of this company after it received 1.34 billion leva from the government last December to build 134 km of Hemus Motorway. "And the gigantic sum will be spent in the dark," the story says.
"Troud" says in its front-page headline that "fake news sabotage Struma Motorway". The story is about reports that unwarranted construction work is being done on future sections of Struma Motorway before a contractor is officially selected, which the paper calls "yet another attempt to blackmail the Bulgarian construction sector" which might cause the loss of 1.5 billion leva. The story continues on two inside pages.
"Monitor" reports in its cover story that 7,6118 children are deprived of their monthly child allowances due to truancy. The amounts each child loses vary between 40 and 145 leva depending on the number of children in their family. The figures of the Social Assistance Agency show that the number of absentees have doubled over the past eight years.
"24 Chassa" leads with a story saying that an increasing number of doctors are suing angry patients for libel when they complain about them in on-line forums.
The alleged poisoning of businessman Emilian Gebrev with what he suspected to be a substance of the Novichok family, continues to get the paper's' attention. "Sega" quotes former Defence Minister and a close friend of Gebrev's, Boyko Noev, as saying on bTV that the Bulgarian authorities are trying to cover up the poisoning. Noev also says that the poisoning is unlikely to have been ordered by the Kremlin but was most certainly perpetrated by Russians. "Douma" has a page-long commentary on the matter saying that "the second-in-command at GERB", Tsvetan Tsvetanov, has been using the Gebrev case "to sour relations with Moscow".
"Sega" writes that "the saga over the sale of the Bulgarian assets of CEZ continues". "After last November, when the first candidate - the Pazardjik-based Inercom - failed to pay for the Czech company's assets here, talks started with the second-best bidder, India Power. It, however, has not yet offered a price even though it has been negotiating since last December, CEZ press officer Alice Horakova told the Bulgarian National Radio. She explained that they have not yet seen a binding offer from India Power and have no idea what they will propose."
A headline in "Sega" says that 18 per cent of transport companies are in bad financial condition. "The situation in the transport sector is not encouraging. Experts from the insurance and credit risk management company Coface warn that this business has been carrying increasing levels of risk in the past year, partly due to the expected restrictions in the Macron Package and partly due to the global economic slowdown, especially in Europe.
"Capital Daily" also reports the Coface analysis but the focus is on the effect from Brexit for the European economy and Bulgaria. They believe that a no-deal Brexit is little likely and yet insecurity over UK's exit from the EU and its future relations with the bloc is already impacting adversely trade and investment flows. "Deal or no deal, Bulgaria will feel adverse effects but they will be indirect and will come from this country's key trading partners Germany and Italy," the Coface analysts say.
"Monitor" reports on its front page that Brexit has brought 400 British companies to Bulgaria. There are now 16,452 companies with UK capital registered in Bulgaria.
"Troud" has a two-page interview with Swedish Ambassador for Bulgaria Louise Bergholm, which is headlined "Swedish Business Looks with Optimism at Bulgaria". She says that her country respects the Bulgarian decision to opt for acquisition of American F-16 jets rather than the Swedish-made Gripen for its Air Force, and remains open to talks should Bulgaria change its mind. She says a poll among Swedish business in Bulgaria in the autumn of 2018 found that 70-80 per cent of them expect growth in their sectors and 90 per cent expect stability or development. All of them expect to keep their volume of business in Bulgaria or to grow. Red tape is seen as a major hurdle here. She says that Swedish investment in Bulgaria totals 200 million euro and has created close to 9,000 jobs.
"Sega" carries an interview with Ivan Karaleev, President of the Chamber of Investment Design Engineers in Bulgaria focusing on some controversial infrastructure projects. He says that there is one major problem in the construction sector: an entire contract is awarded to a single entity which is responsible for all work and what happens is that it does both the construction work and construction supervision. "Control should be independent and so should also be the designers and the people who take asphalt samples for testing, for example. They should not report to the person who has won the entire contract and basically distributes the money." He also says that price should not be the topmost consideration and that the low price should be coupled with quality.
Dnevnik.bg reports that Russian Ambassador Anatolii Makarov answered questions by Bulgarian people on the Facebook page of the embassy. He took questions in a variety of areas, including energy and security. He said that the future of Turkish Stream in Bulgaria will depend on how much the Bulgarian government is ready to defend the project before the European Commission and the project opponents. Asked why Bulgaria pays Europe's costliest natural gas, he said this issue is being magnified out of proportion and blamed it on the differences in the calculation methods used by official statistics and Bulgargaz. He also said that Russia has long proposed Foreign Ministry consultations on future removal of visa requirements but Bulgaria has not responded. Asked when Russia will return the Bulgarian archives, he said that the Russian legislation does not allow it but the archives can be used by the Bulgarian archive services and by researchers, and can be photocopied freely. He pointed out that by April 2018, Russia has handed over to Bulgaria some 10,000 copies.
"Troud" and "24 Chassa" report that Defence Minister Krassimir Karakachanov has threatened to resign unless GERB support the new strategy for Roma integration proposed by his VMRO party (of the power-sharing national coalition United Patriots).
"Douma" has a full-page interview with Kroum Zarkov of the BSP leadership, which is dominated by election-related questions (the Socialists' demands for electing a new Central Election Commission, ways to minimize vote trade, purging the voter registers of non-existing voters, etc.). The headline quotes him saying that while the Bulgarian population is shrinking, the voter registers are swelling.
A commentary in "Sega" says that if she becomes the first European public prosecutor, Romania's former top anti-corruption officer Laura Codruta Kovesi "is not going to make straight the Bulgarian political and judicial system but will certainly keep it on edge". "Romania played a dirty trick to Bulgaria (and to itself): it sacked the chief of the anti-corruption agency to get rid of her voracious ambition to hunt corrupt heads and now she is back as the favourite for the office of the European public prosecutor. From her new and higher office she will continue to prosecute corruption: not only in her home country but across the EU, including Bulgaria, which has rejected the former Romanian mode for fighting corruption," the commentary says. Author Svetoslav Terziev points out that Prime Minister Boyko Borissov has until the end of February to decide whether or not to support Kovesi's bid.