Countering Municipal Corruption in Bulgaria

In June 2021, IRI launched its municipal anticorruption program in 10 Bulgarian municipalities, and expanded its program to a second cohort of five municipalities in February 2023. Through the program, IRI uses analysis to provide a detailed understanding of where specific vulnerabilities lie through the Vulnerabilities to Corruption Approach (VCA) methodology. The program aims to build a consensus on those vulnerabilities among government and non-government leaders, through a municipal working group model. Working groups draft agendas of reforms to address identified vulnerabilities, which are then sent to mayors and municipal councils for consideration, adoption, and implementation. Along the way, IRI contributes to political will for reform by conducting public opinion polling on perceptions of corruption. 

IRI also trains municipal administration officials and municipal councilors to communicate with citizens clearly and transparently, while also training civil society organizations how to advocate for further change. IRI’s national anticorruption conference is a programmatic highlight, during which IRI gathers local and national Bulgarian political leaders and civil society organizations, along with peers in EU-member states, to discuss best practices in local government transparency, integrity, and citizen engagement. During the national anticorruption conference in July 2022 a municipal anticorruption pact was signed by the program’s initial 10 municipalities through mayors or their delegated officials.  

The VCA Approach

IRI’s Vulnerabilities to Corruption Approach (VCA) is a method for identifying vulnerabilities to corruption in a particular sector or institution that seeks buy-in from both government and non-governmental actors. The VCA has been implemented in countries across the world. The VCA assessment process includes conducting a political economy analysis through desk research; assessing vulnerabilities through interviews with government officials, civil society, and community leaders; establishing working groups comprised of government and civil society members; and presenting VCA reports to those working groups for validation and buy-in.  

In Bulgaria, IRI deploys the VCA to identify vulnerabilities to corruption at the municipal level. VCA reports identify the key issues IRI then addresses through its municipal working groups. This approach ensures IRI’s programming is empirically based and locally tailored. IRI’s VCA assessments have been conducted in 10 Bulgaria municipalities in 2021-2022, and IRI is currently finishing assessments in five additional municipalities, with an expected publication date in November 2023. The selection of assessment locales reflected the diversity of Bulgarian municipalities in terms of population size, political preference, economic make-up, geographical location, ethnic composition. The set of municipalities under study encompass large cities and small towns, primarily urban and primarily rural districts, communities dependent on agriculture, industry, and services, and areas with above average concentrations of ethnic minorities.

The first stage of IRI’s VCA in Bulgaria consists of a political economy analysis to pre-emptively identify reform trajectories, windows of opportunity, and potential bottlenecks for reform. This analysis included country-level trends and factors, as well as municipal-level ones. The second stage of the VCA assessment consists of semi-structured interviews with key informants in each municipality. Interviewees were selected to represent a cross-section of public life in the municipality, and they included deputy mayors, senior administration officials, members of municipal councils, and members of civil society comprising NGO representatives, business association representatives, journalists, academics, activists, informal groups, and engaged citizens. 

IRI’s complete assessment report of the initial ten municipalities, entitled “Assessing Municipal Vulnerabilities to Corruption in Bulgaria: An Examination of Ten Bulgarian Municipalities” was published in July 2022. In this report, IRI outlines not only key problem statements and tailored recommendations for each municipality, but also cross-cutting vulnerabilities and recommendations from findings across the country. IRI’s five cross-cutting findings are: 

  1. Corruption prevention mechanisms are seldom used 
  2. Transparency is practiced without attention to accessibility of information 
  3. Unresponsive administrations lead to the use of informal channels 
  4. Formal participation mechanisms cannot overcome citizen disengagement 
  5. Civil society does not play a substantive role in municipal policy 

The assessment report established a basis of findings and recommendations in each municipality from which IRI and the working groups developed reform proposals, starting in the fall of 2022. 

Polling Data

To further capture the current state of corruption, transparency, and citizen engagement in IRI’s program municipalities, IRI’s Center for Insights in Survey Research (CISR) conducts public opinion polling, measuring citizens perceptions of municipal corruption, transparency, citizen engagement, trust in municipal institutions, media independence, and other important issues. This polling has helped demonstrate citizen desire for improved government anticorruption efforts, driving political will among municipal political leaders to adopt and implement reforms. 

The International Republican Institute’s (IRI) conducted a set of representative polls in the first wave of ten municipalities in February-March 2022. The polls found widespread concerns over corruption, a lack of enthusiasm for participation in local governance, and a diversity of views on issues across the municipalities that were surveyed.

IRI will conduct a set of polls in the second wave of five municipalities in September 2023. 

The Anticorruption Pact

IRI’s Municipal Anticorruption Pact presents a public commitment by each municipality’s political leaders to improve their municipality’s transparency, citizen engagement and anticorruption mechanisms. The signing of the Pact also signals political support for the municipal working groups’ development of anticorruption reform agendas. 

During IRI’s national anticorruption conference, “Combatting Vulnerabilities to Corruption at the Municipal Level,” on July 19-20, 2022, in the capital city of Sofia, the mayors and deputy mayors of the first wave of ten municipalities participating in the IRI program signed the Municipal Anticorruption Pact. 

IRI will present the Pact to political leaders of the five additional municipalities in IRI’s next national anticorruption conference, set for January 2024.

The Reform Agendas

With the support of IRI, municipal working groups, comprised of government and non-government representatives, design, and adopt anticorruption reform agendas that are sent to the mayors for official adoption by municipal council decision. These reform agendas address vulnerabilities to corruption specified in IRI’s VCA reports.  

Working groups in the first wave of ten municipalities in 2022 developed reform agendas that IRI sent to mayors. Nine of the ten municipalities have adopted the reform agendas by council decision. Below you can see the text of the adopted agendas:

Progress in Municipalities

  • VCA report
    Published by IRI
  • Municipal Poll results published by IRI
  • Municipality joined the Municipal Anticorruption Pact
  • Municipal Anticorruption Reform Agenda developed and adopted by the respective municipal working group
  • Municipal Anticorruption Reform Agenda sent to mayor for consideration for official adoption
  • Anticorruption Reform Agenda adopted by the Municipal Council
  • Anticorruption Reform Agenda under implementation
Stara Zagora
Veliko Tarnovo
  •  Step Completed & Download Available |  Step Completed
  • Documents found in English above are unofficial translations of the originals in Bulgarian

Materials for Civil Society Organization (CSO) Capacity Building

IRI recognizes the role civil society organizations can play in serving to hold governments accountable to political promises and as corruption watchdogs. Through its program, IRI strives to enhance the role CSOs play in implementing and monitoring anticorruption reforms at the municipal level. IRI does this by bridging the communication between municipalities and CSOs through the inclusion of CSOs in municipal working groups. IRI also provides trainings, guidebooks, and networking opportunities for local organizations and activists. 

Here you can find some of the resources IRI has provided to local organizations in Bulgaria:

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