Civic Monitoring over the Spending of Public Funds in Blagoevgrad District
The lasting improvement of transparency and civic monitoring over established practices and policies for spending public funds opens new opportunities for interaction between the municipal administrations with the civil society and the business in Blagoevgrad district.
With the support of the America for Bulgaria Foundation BlueLink will expand the opportunities for public supervision over local institutions by civil activists and business representatives by jointly creating with them an online platform for civic participation, oversight of the management and spending of public funds in municipalities in South West Bulgaria, and journalistic investigations.
It will allow the submission of alerts and testimonies (referred to as “signali” in Bulgarian) by business representatives, active citizens and civic groups in a protected environment. Based on its good experience from previous projects for setting up of similar platforms with the participation of the Ministry of Health and Regional Health Inspectorates, the Executive Forest Agency, Sofia Municipality, etc., BlueLink will invite all control and supervisory bodies related to the spending of public funds, as well as the municipalities in Blagoevgrad district, for cooperation in following back to the alerts and testimonies submitted through the platform and in providing feedback for the implemented measures to answer them, without, however, this being an obstacle to the envisaged civil supervision.
Experts of the BlueLink Foundation will analyze the legal framework for the management and spending of public funds in municipalities in the district (e.g. municipal budgets, projects financed from the state budget and European funds and other sources) and the existing mechanisms for civic participation, monitoring and control over public funds spending at local and regional level. The experts will prepare recommendations for improving these processes, which will be presented in June 2021.
Through specialized trainings, the project will strengthen the capacity for monitoring and reporting on improper use of public funds of:
1. business representatives who are the most affected by bad and corrupt practices in the allocation of public funds, but rarely ready to report them so as not to lose their chances of future participation in public procurement;
2. active citizens and civic groups and organizations engaged in good governance of public funds, transparency of local self-government, democracy, environmental protection, etc .; and
3. media representatives and journalists looking for opportunities to work professionally on the transparent spending of public funds and mechanisms for civic participation in this process.
The platform will allow reviewing and analyzing the alerts and testimonies and directing them to:
● relevant public bodies for supervision, control and ensuring good management of public funds;
● the virtual editorial office Evromegdan.bg and the civil action network www.bluelink.net, through which the alerts and testimonies will reach active civic groups and activists on the ground, as well as independent journalists who will publish reports; and the
● independent portal Blagoevgrad-news.com of the Association for Free Media - Blagoevgrad, where selected alerts and testimonies will be thoroughly investigated by an experienced investigative team of journalists.
The alerts and testimonies received within the developed platform will serve as a basis for the preparation of 10 multimedia reports. The authors will be local journalists and journalism students. There will also be 10 in-depth journalistic investigations into corrupt practices or irregularities in the spending of public funds. The investigations will be carried out by the experienced team of blagoevgrad-news.com. Some of them will be focused on the activities of the smaller municipalities in Blagoevgrad district, which usually remain outside the scope of media attention, but have a serious concentration of power in the hands of mayors, who individually decide how, when and to whom to direct public procurement.
The project will also help to improve capacity and engage key target groups at the local level. Their representatives will take part in training workshops for using the platform and for journalistic coverage of alerts and testimonies received through it.
This will lay the foundations for an informal network of local activists, business representatives and journalists, who will have the necessary knowledge and access to sources of information to monitor the spending of public funds in the region. This will lead to an improved local business environment and opportunities to restore trust in institutions.
"In recent years, opaque decisions and suspicions of corruption have spread in the municipality of Blagoevgrad and the district. We believe that the implementation of this project will improve the ability of every citizen and economic entity in Blagoevgrad district to have tools to control the spending of public funds, which opportunity is currently limited due to the existence of "political bastions" in places and the fear that people feel from those in power ", commented Natalia Dimitrova-Popova from BlueLink. “We have a well-developed capacity and many years of experience in the analysis and creation of electronic and journalistic tools for the supervision and cooperation of civil society with local institutions. Our solid partner for investigative journalism in Blagoevgrad region is the Association for Free Media", added Dimitrova-Popova.
To achieve all this, BlueLink will draw on its more than 20 years of experience in the development and strategic use of electronic tools in support of democracy and civil society. Blulink will build upon the experience from other platforms developed by the organization in cooperation with their users and responsible institutions, including the platform for reporting violations of the ban on smoking in public places (platform for reporting), which has been operating since 2012 and by the end of 2020. More than 9,300 alerts and testimonies from more than 6,700 citizens have been submitted through it.
Support for the Grantee (Bluelink) is provided by the America for Bulgaria Foundation. The statements and opinions expressed herein are solely those of the Grantee and do not necessarily reflect the views of the America for Bulgaria Foundation or its affiliates.
The America for Bulgaria Foundation (ABF) is an independent, nonpartisan, and nonpolitical American grant-making foundation working in partnership with Bulgarians to strengthen the country’s private sector and related democratic institutions. ABF builds on the success of the Bulgarian-American Enterprise Fund, an investment fund created in 1991 by the U.S. Congress with support from the U.S. Agency for International Development. For more information, please visit www.us4bg.org.
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