Economic Policy Review ISSN 1313 - 0544

Power without Control

Author: Svetla Kostadinova / 26.07.2007
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The chairman of the Bulgarian Parliament announced the report on its activities in July 2007. According to it, since current Parliament inauguration:

-  293 plenary sessions were held

-  391 acts were passed

-  2 Constitutional amendments were adopted  

-  5 codes were voted

-  1 360 questions and 579 interpellations to council of ministers were made.

The statistics itself is impressive. A reasonable person will think whether he had noticed the effects of such legislative activity. Assessments would vary.

On one side, there are certain groups in the society that would claim Parliament work is efficient and useful. These are businesses and professions that managed to enforce their will and interests which is not bad if the society benefits. This is not always the case however. Numerous examples of laws that hinder public interest, create preferences and limit competition can be found in the list.

On the other side, the European Commission would be happy about certain aspects of Parliament work. According to the report, 243 new acts were adopted that are closely related to imposition and harmonization of EU legislation. This is approximately 62% of all legislation which means that either there was unfinished business, the Bulgarian MPs are "harmonizators" or just using EU as justification for pointless work - no one can claim that there is a single person who can quickly and successfully orient in so many laws. Another issue is that Bulgarian lawmakers almost always overdo in transposition and often European Commission would reject its authorship in some acts adopted by Bulgarian Parliament.

The most important issue, however, is the impact on society from lawmaking activity. It's hard to answer to this question. In USA, each year the Office of management and budget within the President prepares review of the effects of federal regulations with significant impact on society. Draft report 2007 states that the benefits from regulations are between 99 billion and 484 billion dollars; the costs are between 44 billion and 46 billion dollars; the average annual compliance costs have decreased by 47% for the last twenty years and average annual benefits have doubled for the last 8 years.

Unlike USA, here in Bulgaria we can not expect such analysis and the reason is very simple - no one in our "very busy" Parliament does not know exactly the effects from certain regulations would be during the discussions, after law adoption or several years after it has been implemented. It appears that Bulgarian MPs don't care or just don't know whether a law makes sense in first place.

Another question is how and whether the voted laws will be implemented in practice. One can argue that is not of concern for the Parliament but this is the institution that should exercise control otherwise its activities are meaningless.

An important aspect is lack of review of regulations' effects after they have been implemented in practice. It is normal to have different from expected effects and therefore a revision of results is recommended so the law can be fixed accordingly. The other issue of the problem is that some of the provisions in the newly voted laws are underfinanced - according to recently released information there are activities stipulated in legislation that lack more than 2 billion leva (1 billion Euro) of financing.

Finally, the Parliament itself has the obligation to approve annual budgets and reports of various state bodies and agencies but it has not done this regularly for years which is a total lack of control over executive power in the country.

The effects are:

  • 1) Despite the lack of total calculation of effects from legislative work, is it more likely that there are more costs than benefits unless someone show us any analysis stating the opposite;
  • 2) "Bad" laws are just not enforced in practice that imposes more costs - for the business to hide and not comply, and for administration - to monitor and administer;
  • 3) The power given to MPs is hard to be monitored and assessed - if we don't know the real effects from lawmaking we can not search for responsibility;
  • 4) In this situation certain groups have clear privilege and access that can be used in their favor.

The major conclusion is that because it is impossible to judge what in practice the Parliament does, people will vote unexpectedly during elections. This in turn is advantageously for big parties because they hope that they will always manage to position "their people" in the next Parliament. That's why they don't accept more transparency in legislative activity now.