site.btaMedia Review: Feb. 9

Media Review: Feb. 9
Media Review: Feb. 9
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GAS PRICE CONTROVERSY

"Three Blamed for Expensive Gas," runs the main headline in Trud. The daily reports that the energy minister in the Kiril Petkov cabinet (December 2021 - August 2022), the minister's deputy and the chief of state-owned natural gas supplier Bulgargaz at that time have been charged with mismanagement and malfeasance in office. They will be held liable for the spring 2022 purchase of natural gas through intermediaries, at a price that was 30% higher than the level which Bulgargaz could have achieved, thus inflicting BGN 88 million detriment on the company, the story says, quoting National Investigation Service Spokesperson Bisserka Stoyanova. This happened after Russia's Gazprom suspended gas supplies to Bulgaria. Alexander Nikolov, as minister, is accused of failing to exercise sufficient control over Lyudmil Yotsov, as CEO of Bulgargaz. The paper notes that the price hike on gas pushed up food and heating prices.

The topic is also covered by other news outlets. The 24 Chasa daily quotes the Continue the Change party as saying in a position statement that, essentially, the prosecution service has charged a Bulgarian government minister with following the guidelines of the European Commission. This seems to show that anyone who goes against Russia's interests and defends Bulgaria's interests will face legal action. (Continue the Change dominated the government coalition at the time of the alleged wrongdoings.) The paper notes that the charges came three days after Prosecutor General Ivan Geshev ended a visit to the US, where he warned of Russia's growing malicious influence in Bulgaria.

Interviewed for the morning talk show of Nova TV, Nikolov described the charges against him as "nonsense". The former energy minister was adamant that at the start of the Ukraine war Bulgarian consumers were buying the cheapest gas, although 90% of their gas consumption depended on Gazprom supplies. Nikolov asked rhetorically: "If the amount bought at that time could have been cheaper, how come that Bulgaria was paying the lowest price for natural gas in Europe?" Referring to one of the alleged intermediaries whose participation in the supply chain is said to have inflated the price, he asked: "If MET Energy did something wrong, why are they still supplying gas to Bulgargaz even as we speak?"

ECONOMY & HEALTH

The measures to reduce food prices, planned by the caretaker cabinet, will not work, Bulgarian Socialist Party Chair Kornelia Ninova said, as quoted in the main story in Duma. Instead of these measures, Ninova called for a price cap on the products in the consumer basket. She said the government should only recognize production and transportation costs and a 10% trade discount. "Anything above that is profiteering," Ninova argued. She noted that you cannot fight profiteering with a price comparison website, as suggested by the government. "It takes a firm hand," she added. Meanwhile, the Economy Ministry announced massive checks at supermarket chains which have reported excessive profits, the daily says.

* * *

A cold February has turned up electricity-powered heating appliances in Bulgarian homes to the maximum, causing a 50% increase in electricity consumption, 24 Chasa reports in its leading story. Electricity consumption is coming close to the level in the harsh winter of 2017, data from the Electricity System Operator show.

Experts recall that in January 2017, when temperatures plummeted to minus 20 C, the Energy Minister suspended electricity exports. Now, there are no plans to do that. Most of the domestic demand for electricity is met by the country's only nuclear power plant, at Kozloduy, and the thermal power plants. Hydroelectric and wind power systems contribute a small portion.

* * *

A man with COVID-19 died in Sofia on the night of Tuesday to Wednesday after the attempts of his 47-old daughter to get him hospitalized proved in vain, SegaBG.com reports. The daughter wrote on Facebook that she and her father were going to hospital after hospital but there were no vacant beds anywhere. The Pirogov Emergency Hospital reportedly said they had no COVID-19 unit. Back in 2020, the daughter worked as a volunteer in the COVID-19 unit at Alexandrovska Hospital. The Health Ministry said her father's death is under investigation.

FOREIGN RELATIONS

Bulgarian media continue to cover the aftermath of the devastating earthquakes in Turkiye and Syria. Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF) Deputy Chair Ahmed Ahmedov told the morning talk show of BNT1 that about 20 Bulgarian Turks in the Adana area died in the quakes. He said the area is home to 30,000 ethnic Turks who were displaced from Bulgaria in 1951. The MRF has organized a charity campaign in support of those affected by the disaster, Ahmedov said.

The 24 Chasa daily reports that, in a rare move, the Turkish Embassy in Bulgaria started a fund-raising campaign on its own to support the Turkish Disaster and Emergency Management Authority. It is only very rarely that a diplomatic mission in a foreign country would organize a fundraiser for post-disaster recovery back home, the paper says. Donors can use the following bank account: BG64TCZB 93501010150300.

A signed comment in Trud says that the deaths and the wreckage are not the only kinds of damage caused by the earthquakes. Powerful shocks are expected in the regional and global economy. The area around the epicentre of the quakes in Turkiye is an important metal producing region with an annual output capacity of 10 million tonnes. Adding the cold rolling capacity, the annual output can reach 15 million tonnes. With natural gas pipelines broken and the port of Iskenderun seriously damaged, it can be safely estimated that Turkiye has lost one-third of its steel industry, the author says.

"A story of humaneness with negative overtones" is playing out in the Bulgarian Black Sea city of Varna, according to SegaBG.com. The website says that the municipal authorities have decided to set up a relief supply donation centre to support the people of Turkiye and Syria. The same place was used last year to collect supplies for Ukrainian refugees. That could have been a praiseworthy effort if Varna City Hall had done its part of the job rather than leaving bewildered volunteers to cope alone with busloads of arriving Ukrainians. Now, in the case of the donations for Turkiye and Syria, everything seems to be going well. It could be because of the forthcoming early parliamentary elections or the approaching local elections. Anyway, the (in-)actions in the previous humanitarian campaign should not be forgotten, the website says.

* * *

Prosecutor General Ivan Geshev was on leave during his recent visit to the US, and the Bulgarian prosecution service did not pay for the trip, MediaPool.bg says. This transpired from the institution's answers to questions raised by the website.

The visit had been described as official on the website of the Prosecution of the Republic of Bulgaria. Geshev was said to be in the US to attend the 71st National Prayer Breakfast hosted by President Joe Biden. Later, the prosecution magistracy website reported that Geshev had participated in an international discussion at the US Congress which looked at the consequences of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The intended message that Geshev is Washington's trusted partner seemed hard to substantiate from the very beginning, MediaPool.bg comments. The US Embassy in Sofia said they had nothing to do with the organization of his trip. It turned out that Geshev's "participation" in the Prayer Breakfast was a mere viewing of an online streaming of President Biden's greetings address. According to US media, the list of guests was much shorter this year. Eventually, it emerged that Geshev had been invited to the US by Congressman Pete Sessions.

* * *

US Ambassador Herro Mustafa visited the American University in Bulgaria, where she met with its President David Evans, Trud says in a caption under a front-page photo of Mustafa and Evans standing on both sides of a poster commemorating the 120th anniversary of the two countries' diplomatic relations. The caption further says that during her visit the Ambassador delivered an inspiring speech to students and faculty about the strong bond between the United States and Bulgaria. Calling for an expansion of bilateral cooperation, she vowed: "The United States will be with you every step of the way as a partner, an ally and a friend."

/VE/

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