Economic Policy Review ISSN 1313 - 0544

Why Bulgarians Still Pay for Access to Their Laws?

24.07.2015
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What is the problem?

In July 2008 issues of the State Gazette (SG) began to be published on the Internet[1] after a long campaign for reform conducted by several think tanks, including IME. This was a good step to improve the access to information on legislative changes in Bulgaria.

The reform, however, is extremely halfway because there is still no official source of the consolidated texts of regulations that is legally binding and free to use by citizens, business and administration.

Let's look at an example from a recent edition of the State Gazette.

The State Gazette issue #48 of June 27, 2015 an amendment of 2008 Ordinance of the terms and conditions for granting targeted assistance for heating was published. The amendment is changing just one position and it is as follows:

 

"In Article 2, paragraph 2, the ratio "1,245" is replaced with "1,269". "

 

This is the access to information that the Bulgarian administration currently provides to citizens and companies.

The options for the concerned are a few:

  1. To seek the old text of the regulation and to apply the change themselves, so to be sure that they have the most current version of the regulation (this, however, must be an everyday effort);
  2. To seek in Internet already updated version with free access (but there is no guarantee that the text found is fully updated with the previous changes);
  3. To use one of the paid legal information systems (LIS), that implemented the change in the existing latest version of the regulation;
  4. To look on the website of the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy for the updated version of the regulation (18 days after publication in State Gazette this ordinance has not yet updated the site).

 

The problem that we describe can be formulated as follows:

The citizens, businesses and administration in Bulgaria do not have free access to the consolidated texts of the current regulatory framework, which is legally binding. [2] 

Our highly conservative estimates of the direct cost to the economy of the lack of access to legal information in consolidated form is for aggregate annual cost of at least 6.8 million BGN.


Table 1: strongly conservative account of the estimated direct cost of lack of access to the current regulatory framework in Bulgaria for 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Affected stakeholders

The main affected parties of the current situation are:

  1. Citizens;
  2. All companies;
  3. The administration.

All they lack legal binding free access to the current consolidated regulatory framework, the use free internet sources with no guarantee of accuracy or chose to use paid legal information systems.

 

Effects

There are several ways in which we can measure the effects of current practice:

1. Infringed fundamental right of access to information to regulations that must be respected

  • Do not promote the rule of law;
  • Restrict the access of entrepreneurs to reliable information, which can lead to erroneous business decisions;
  • Increase the costs for businesses, citizens and administration, resulting in lower efficiency of their operations.

2. Costs of administration

  • For the budget of the "State Gazette" administration in Parliament;
  • For access to paid legal information systems.

3. Costs to individuals and companies

  •  For access to paid legal information systems;
  • For legal services.

4. National Security

  • The access to the most recent consolidated legal texts depends on private companies - in case of a problem in their functioning, there is no alternative database that can be used by both the administration and citizens / businesses.

 

The example of Europe

At present almost all EU member states provide free access to the consolidated texts of laws adopted by the Legislature in electronic form. The only exceptions to this rule are Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece (access to the full texts is paid), and Ireland (consolidated texts are published only on the most important laws). The only EU member state (except Bulgaria), in which the consolidated text of all laws remain unavailable in electronic form is Cyprus. All other offer the full text of all applicable laws free in electronic format.

Recently, in more Member States of the EU electronic format the texts of the laws began to be legally binding. Examples include Estonia, Malta and Portugal. These are countries where full texts of the laws are not only free available on Internet, but can also be cited as the official source of legal information in court or other legal purposes.

 

Recommendations for reform

The access to current consolidated texts of legislation in Bulgaria should be provided by the Bulgarian administration. It should be a free and legally binding.

The European practice shows that in all countries except Bulgaria and Cyprus such access by the administration is already provided on internet and free of charge for the users, though only in some countries that is legally binding. The process, however, is irreversible and Bulgaria lags dramatically, and even do not discuss any plans for reform.

 

The specific recommendations of the reform are:

  • The administration of the "State Gazette" at the National Assembly (or other administrative structure) should start publishing consolidated versions of regulations;
  • The access should be free for all;
  • The access should be in Internet;
  • The online version of the texts should be legally binding;
  • The printing of a paper edition of the State Gazette should be abolished.

 

There are two options on how this reform can be launched, i.e. how to finance the initial creation of the database:

- Using European funds;

- By a single budget subsidy for the creation of the database - information on the cost of the reform in the UK shows that it amounted to about 1.2 million GBP[1] for the period between 1991 - 2006. This will be the main cost that would be one off and it is  still much lower than scattered annual coats among citizens, businesses and administration paid for subscription.

 

The full analysis can be read here (only in Bulgarian).

 

The analysis is part of IME public campaign Business Without Obstacles.

 

 

 



[1] For more information see here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legislation.gov.uk

[1] See here: http://dv.parliament.bg/

[2] The consolidated versions of the legal texts provided by different sources are for informational purposes only. Liabilities incurred as a result of legal or factual actions, based on the information from these sources are borne entirely by the actions taken by individuals.