How the system works: ineligible expenditures for BGN 800 thousand on three EU projects in Varna

Financial corrections on the implementation of three projects with EU funding amounting to nearly BGN 8.6 million have been imposed on Varna Municipality in the last two years. This is according to data released by the Varna Administrative Court with the press releases on the progress of several cases filed by the mayor of the city Ivan Portnih against the imposed corrections. So far, his administration had not published information about them or about the sanctions. The total amount of corrections that Portnih is now challenging is nearly 800 thousand BGN.

Just a few days ago, the administrative court held its first hearing in a case initiated following an appeal by the municipality of Varna against a decision of the Managing Authority of the Operational Programme “Regional Development 2007-2013”. It is about the imposition of a financial correction of nearly 250 thousand BGN, which represents 5% of the costs with a total amount of nearly 5 million BGN including VAT.

The expenditure that has been challenged relates to the implementation of components of the notorious Varna Integrated Urban Transport project with a total value exceeding BGN 150 million for its two phases. Most of it was provided by EU funding under the Regional Development Programme. Its implementation was completed already in 2016, but some of its components were not implemented at all, others proved to be unsuccessful, and the implemented ones cannot be connected into a working system to this day.

For what irregular expenditure is the financial correction imposed can be guessed from the complex expert examination appointed in this case by the Varna Administrative Court. It must establish, for example, what elements were incorporated into the system to ensure priority for public transport at the light-controlled intersections along the bus rapid transit (BRT) corridor envisaged in the project. Another part of the review should answer questions about how the system works and under what circumstances it is triggered.

In a series of publications on the topic of the so-called integrated urban transport of Varna, “Dnevnik” has repeatedly informed that the bus rapid corridor exists only “on paper” And this completely defeats the purpose of the costs incurred for it. The cost of the BRT corridor with a length of nearly 15 km was set at about 30 million BGN.

The court-appointed expert opinion will in all likelihood confirm another failure within the project – the lack of an updated transport scheme for Varna, which calls into question the appropriateness of the entire expenditure of nearly 150 million BGN. The analysis to be carried out as part of the court proceedings on the appeals of the mayor of Varna should also establish the purpose of some of the newly built bus stops is, whether they are used, and whether the 30 wheelchair ramps in the public transport buses in Varna supplied under the project are functioning.

How with 150 million BGN the transport in Varna did not become more modern – here. Curious information will probably also be gathered in the course of the appointed expertise on whether the platforms for people with mobility problems in the city’s underpasses in Varna are in good working order, whether they are safe enough and whether there are connections everywhere between them and the street pavements.

A check by Dnevnik last May has already established the obvious fact that with few exceptions the platforms – 55 in total – are not working. This has been confirmed by people with mobility problems, and proof of the careless and formal attitude of municipal officials towards them was the fact that some of the platforms were placed in places where it was clear when they were installed that they would be unusable.

How Varna lied to people in wheelchairs – here

Another financial correction in the amount of nearly 280 thousand BGN was imposed on the local administration for unrecognized costs in the implementation of the project “Environmentally friendly transport for Varna”. The correction represents 25% of the eligible costs under a contract for nearly BGN 1.1 million. At the end of last year, the anti-corruption commission headed by Sotir Tsatsarov entered Varna municipality on a signal of abuse related to this project. After the completion of the inspection on 2 December last year, the specialised prosecutor’s office initiated pre-trial proceedings “against an official in a responsible official position in Varna municipality”. According to unofficial information, this is about pressure exerted in the selection of a supplier of electric buses for public transport in Varna.

A third financial correction, announced by the Administrative Court in Varna, was imposed on the local administration by the Managing Authority of the Operational Programme Regions in Growth 2014-2020. The correction amounts to 10% of the eligible costs under a contract for nearly BGN 2.6 million.

At the end of April last year, a reference provided to “Dnevnik” under the Law on Access to Public Information showed that in the implementation of five projects with EU funding, started and completed in the previous period 2015 – 2021, financial sanctions and corrections amounting to nearly BGN 6 million have already been imposed.