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Bulgarian report Bulgarian report
by Euro Reporter
2011-12-18 10:30:24
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Bulgaria PM vows to revive near terminally ill health care
Bulgaria's prime minister, well known for his populist pledges, plans to assign top priority to the country's struggling health system, plagued by chronic underfunding, brain-drain and a lack of meaningful reform. "The government will push for more money and will help the Health Minister, whom we left high and dry this year," Boyko Borisov said. He stressed the funding allotted to the health care sector is more than BGN 3.25 envisaged in the state budget, since it does not take account of the money for the hospitals that cater to officials from the interior, transport and defence ministry.

After years of lumbering reforms in Bulgaria's health care system, Bulgarian hospitals are running out of cash and patients suffer. Hospitals across the country have suspended planned operations and reduced admission of emergency cases due to lack of money, while the increasing number of mistakes in diagnoses and surgery costs more and more lives. A number of governments have failed to implement reforms. Not a single health minister has managed to plug the holes in the system.

The new Minister Stefan Konstantinov inherited is a huge load of problems - understaffing, supply shortages, brain drain, bribes to doctors and nurses to ensure better treatment, high debts and chronic lack of money – but has hardly made any difference. In recession-battered Bulgaria, the government spends just 4.2% of its GDP on health. All employed and self-employed Bulgarians are obliged to make monthly health insurance contributions of 8% of their income to the Health Insurance Fund, but it has been plagued by corruption and funds siphoning is no exception there. Besides the state pays merger health insurance contributions for the people under its wing.


Nationalist stirs parliamentary brawl

The first appearance in the Parliament, after a two-week-long absence, of Bulgaria's nationalist leader, Volen Siderov, ended with a scandal Friday and his removal from plenary hall. The leader of the far-right, nationalist Ataka party was penalized by the Speaker of the Parliament, Tsetska Tsacheva, for indecent behaviour with the harshest sanction – a ban to participate in Parliamentary debates for three sessions. The scandal started with Siderov shouting from his seat at Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister, Tsvetan Tsvetanov, who was answering questions from the Members of the Parliament, during the so-called Friday Parliamentary control.

He was removed after failing to stop the shouting despite warnings. He, however, refused to leave, and a little bit later demanded to read a declaration on behalf of the Ataka parliamentary group, which is permitted in principle. Tsacheva, however, did not allow it on the grounds he had already been removed. "You are violating the Parliamentary Code and the Constitution. What are you afraid of?" an enraged Siderov shouted, while Ataka MPs, Pavel Shopov and Desislav Chukolov, helped him occupy the Parliamentary tribune. Other MPs prevented their access to Tsacheva, who replied: "I am not afraid, but maybe you are? You are attacking a lady with the help of two other."

"This Parliament is not a meeting of the Bulgarian Communist Party, even though you have been an activist of this party," Siderov kept shouting, referring to Tsacheva's known past a secretary of a local BCP branch in her youth. The latter earned Siderov the harshest penalty. "I will cite Churchill - If you are not a member of the Bulgarian Communist Party by the time you are 20, you have no heart. If you are still a Communist by the time you are 30, you have no head," Tsacheva concluded.

The actual quote is: "If you are not a Socialist by the time you are 25, you have no heart. If you are still a Socialist by the time you are 35, you have no head," – it does not mention anything about BCP, and has been misattributed to Churchill. The plenary session, however, was interrupted twice over the brawl. During the second "emergency" break, Siderov burst in the Speaker's office to ask for explanations. The outcome of the talk was not revealed.


Railway workers call off strike

Workers at Bulgaria's indebted state railway operator BDZ on Saturday called off a three-week nationwide strike against plans to cut jobs to try to secure a 230 million euro World Bank loan. The trade unions and BDZ's management said they had reached an agreement on a new labour contract that will ensure the salaries of the workers and also allow for reforms in the ailing railway. A final deal will be signed on Monday.

The strike, which ran for eight hours each day with minimum services available, affected thousands of passengers who travel by train daily and caused losses of some 2.5 million levs ($1.67 million) to BDZ. The World Bank loan will help BDZ, which employs 13,000 people, to repay some of its debts, which amount to 800 million levs, and thus improve its balance sheet.

The European Union's poorest member needs to revamp its Soviet-era railways and poor road infrastructure to attract foreign investors and increase tourism revenues as the economy slows. ($1 = 1.4994 Bulgarian levs) (Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova and Irina Ivanova)

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