A controversy on public spending for street lighting in Sofia

An opposition council member of Bulgaria’s capital denounces public spending related to street lighting contracts. Bulgaria Prime Minister orders a review of the allegations.

National Assembly of Bulgaria in Sofia at night
National Assembly of Bulgaria in Sofia at night | © Wengen

Boris Benev denounced on January 30 the contracts that the city of Sofia signed for the street light infrastructure. He considers there are excessive and contradictory prices between the two companies that won the tender.

On one side of the street, a street lamp would cost 1,587 Bulgarian leva (US$905) and on the other side of the street, the lamp would cost BGN 5,755 ($3,281).

Boris Benev is an opposition council member related to Spasi Sofia, for Save Sofia, a non-governmental civil society organization with the goal to improve the urban environment and the quality of life in Sofia.

The organization looked into the tender for Sofia’s street lighting, a public procurement contract worth BGN 73 million ($42 million) for the next four years.

The investigation showed us that some prices are between 3 and 77 times above the market. There is a difference between the prices of the two companies that won the tender. In one company, the average salary is BGN 7,000 ($3,580), which is almost the salary of the prime minister, Boris Benev said on bTV News.

Each company is responsible for two out of the four areas for building and maintaining street lighting infrastructure in Sofia for the next four years.

The organization also chose five products included in the contract and bought them in a store. They paid BGN 140 for the five products when the city pays BGN 910, according to Benev.

The city council member asked for the resignation of Christian Krastev, the deputy mayor in charge of transportation. Benev also reported to the ministry of Interior threats to his life that he had learned from the U.S. embassy.

Boris Benev on BTV
Boris Benev explaining results of an investigation on costs in street light public contracts | © BTV

Half the story for Sofia’s deputy mayor, congratulations from Bulgaria’s PM

For Christian Krastev, Benev only reported half the facts. He argues that when taking both construction and maintenance into consideration, the average price is approximately the same for both companies. “One company has a higher price for the street lighting maintenance and the other one has a lower cost for maintenance but a higher price for construction”, Christian Krastev told 24 Chasa.

In regards to the extravagant costs of the products, he argued it was not his responsibility to look at agreements between the contractor and its suppliers. For the high salaries, he explained he didn’t have a say in an employer’s salary policy: “Of course, the amount is impressive, but we cannot decide how companies motivate their employees”.

Christian Krastev said he would not resign from his position.

Kiril Petkov, the prime minister of Bulgaria, announced an investigation into the facts that Boris Benev reported and congratulated him for having raised the issue.

We really need an Anti-Corruption Commission with investigative functions,” the prime minister wrote on Facebook. “The city administrators of Sofia told us they did not have the budget to cover electricity prices and would reduce public transport activity…. When we clean up corruption, there will be a budget for everything!”

Kiril Petkov was elected as prime minister in December after months of political instability. His predecessor Boïko Borissov accumulated corruption scandals during his decade-long tenure.

Bulgaria is often considered the poorest and the most corrupt country in the European Union. Petkov promised to clean public life of corruption.

The prime minister wants to overhaul the Commission for Combating Corruption and Confiscation of Illegal Property (KPKONPI) and provide it with investigation authority. The chairman of the anti-corruption commission, Sotir Tsatsarov and former Chief State’s Attorney under Boïko Borissov resigned in mid-January.

For Mihail Kambarev, a member of the prime minister’s political party, the KPKONPI is dysfunctional. “Since 2017, 80% of the proceedings in KPKONPI have not led to anything. There are many overdue cases, many cases stuck in limbo. There is not a single case against a high-ranking public profile”, Kambarev told Banker.

The mayor of Sofia also ordered an internal audit of the selection process of the contractors.

Read more about Bulgaria

Street light contract, Municipality of Sofia, Free access

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