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Anticorruption Mayors on Top of Executives (EN)

. 2 min read

They say the next big thing is here,
that the revolution’s near,
but to me it seems quite clear
that it’s all just a little bit of history repeating

I’m on vacation, in a little village on the Bulgarian seaside, getting tanned and practicing an extraordinary language that I picked up in college. But just 3 days ago, the National Assembly confirmed Bulgaria’s new Cabinet, after the national elections earlier this month. Unsurprisingly, in his inaugural speech, coming after the European Commission’s report, former Sofia Mayor and current Prime-Minister Boiko Borissov pledged to step up the fight against corruption and organized crime. Will the former Mayor and his team succeed?

Early 2005, a reporter from Radio Nederland Wereldomroep asked me a very insightful question: If your former Mayor promised, but did not deliver, to get rid of Bucharest’s stray dogs, why expect anything of the same person’s promise to get rid of Romania’s corruption, once he’s become President? I think nobody can answer such a question, and the developments of the past few months shed a new light on that particular question. Once again, I remember that anti-corruption is a quest for good governance, as shown in UNCAC‘s statement of purpose, art. 1: “To promote integrity, accountability and proper management of public affairs and public property.”

I am not fully aware of what Mayor Borissov had promised to citizens of Sofia, nor whether he delivered or not. But I’m sure a similar question may be asked about this new pledge, especially as we can look at past examples. The most obvious (though not flattering) comparison would be with current PM Emil Boc, former Mayor of Cluj, but remember Victor Ciorbea, former Mayor of Bucharest: what did he promise in 1994, when elected Mayor?, did he fix the city’s problems? I guess not 🙁 Yet, he became Prime-Minister in 1996, pledging structural reforms, including anti-corruption… Many decisions made during that time yielded good results in restructuring the economy and integrating Romania with both NATO and EU, but many others resulted in increasing perception of corruption (1997-2002), especially at high levels of decision-making. Nonetheless, we pay tribute to former PM Ciorbea for initiating Romania’s first systematic study on corruption, as well as ground-breaking anti-corruption law (both completed after he was sacked).

Drawing on the mixed experience of past Romanian Mayors making their way to the top of the Executive, I’d say Mr. Borissov and Ms. Popova don’t stand a chance in improving the situation in Bulgaria, or showing results in a reasonable time. Unless, of course, they shift their approach, and no longer look at the fight against corruption/organized crime as an end, in and of itself! Just as their Romanian counterparts (regardless of past experience with local administration), they should lay the ground for good governance, rather than focusing on anti-corruption. Simply put, corruption affects every walk of life, being more the effect, rather than the cause, of bad government.

However, politicians (especially of a newly born party, such as GERB) are usually interested in getting visible results in the short term (to secure re-election for themselves), at the cost of viable results in the medium to long term (to achieve rule-of-law, durable development and, ultimately, quality of life for the citizens). Therefore, unless they put in place a system of participatory and transparent policy-making, with sound evaluation systems and good enough safeguards for responsible public management, with clear accountability mechanisms, I’m afraid they won’t succeed–either in Bulgaria or Romania 🙁 But they do have an opportunity to do the right thing!