NAMRB management board regular meeting
The municipal investments and reforms in the Recovery and Sustainability Plan of the Republic of Bulgaria were in the focus of the discussions during the hybrid meeting of the NAMRB Management Board. The aim of the discussion was the open questions on the technology of projects implementation, so that the NAMRB team can analyse them thoroughly and plan effective communication with the government in the coming weeks.
Mayor of Samokov Municipality Vladimir Georgiev presented the main reforms set out in the Recovery and Sustainability Plan and related legislative changes on which the NAMRB must shape its position. All Member States plans include measures and public investment aimed precisely at reforming different sectors as a condition for recovery and further development. The achievement of the objectives of the relevant reforms is a condition for receiving the payments under the projects in the Plan. This is also one of the main challenges facing municipalities, as the lack of a planned public resource to start implementation is currently a serious obstacle.
Officially deposited Recovery and Sustainability Plan of the Republic of Bulgaria includes 46 reforms, divided into four main thematic pillars. Some of the reforms have already been implemented and others are planned for implementation by 2026. The more important ones, some of which are expected to affect the activities of municipalities, are planned for preparation in 2022 and early 2023. They include a new Vocational Education and Training Act; a new regulatory framework to promote employment, develop a Plan for the implementation of a Strategic Framework for the Development of Education, Training and Learning, develop a Lifelong Learning Strategy.
Under Pillar 2 Green Bulgaria, one of the most significant envisaged reforms is the establishment of a National Decarbonisation Fund. This Fund also provides for the situation of a credit authority to introduce energy efficiency measures in the public sector. Changes are forthcoming in the Condominium Ownership Management Act, which regulates professional management of residential condominiums; creation of an opportunity to set up a bank account on the condominium, for management and ongoing maintenance of collected funds; applying for collective loans to different financial institutions, etc.; These changes are an important condition for the implementation of the mechanism developed by the Ministry of regional development and public works for the implementation of energy efficiency measures for multi-family residential buildings.
Many activities are intended to reduce the administrative burden. Among the range of activities related to expanding opportunities, including municipalities, for the development of economic activity is also the stimulation of electricity generation by renewable energy sources. Amendments to the Energy Act (by mid-2022) are also envisaged, which will also allow the participation of municipalities, in the form of a public-private partnership, in the implementation of small projects related to the construction of a co-generation gas/biomass with installed capacity from 1 to 30 MW.
Work on integrated projects in the field of sustainable urban mobility and territorial development are in the focus of Pillar 3 "Connected Bulgaria". The main efforts are aimed at ensuring effective access to integrated public transport and activities for the extended introduction of electric mobility. The new programming period provides for a direct involvement of local communities in the management of European funds and instruments by region. Anti-corruption, registration reform and reforms in public administration and public procurement are embedded in the projects, united in Pillar 4 "Fair Bulgaria". A significant package of reforms is foreseen in the health and social activities sectors.
A summary of the reforms to the Plan prepared by the NAMRB team is published on the NAMRB website.( https://www.namrb.org/plan-za-vazstanoviavane-i-ustojtchivost-na-r-balgariia)
The NAMRB Board Members also examined the main investment projects of the Recovery Plan, which can in principle be defined as "municipal". Of 59 investments planned in the document, 21 will be implemented by or in partnership with the municipalities. Total value of the projects to be implemented in the municipalities is approximately 7.3 billion BGN, 34.6% of all investments in the Recovery Plan. This includes those that are expected to be implemented by other departments, but also have a direct relation to the municipalities. The sheer volume of investment that can enter the settlements through the Plan is about 5.5 billion BGN.
All "municipal" projects in the Recovery and Sustainability Plan are detailed, divided by the respective pillars, in the special section of the NAMRB website:
Under the Regulation, the European Commission has two months to agree on the Plan, which, following a deal with the Member State, may be extended by a reasonable period of time. Following the coordination of the Plan, the Council of the European Union should approve it within 4 weeks deadline.
After the approval of the Member State, an advance amount of 13 % of the agreed value of the grant under the Plan shall also be transferred. Interim payments under the Plan, unlike those under the EU Programmes, are not linked to reimbursement of expenditure incurred, but to the achievement of milestones, including the implementation of reforms. In the event that the Plan is not approved by the end of 2021, we are likely not to receive an advance and then Bulgaria should start implementing the projects with its own resources. This also requires us to have intensive conversations with the government about the financial schemes under which investments in the Plan will be implemented. Intensive talks with the European Commission (EC), including on individual investments, are ongoing, according to the NAMRB. There are no open questions on the part of the EC on "municipal investments" in the Plan, as some technical details on which are still clarifying.
On two main topics, there are obstructions and serious comments from the EC:
- The decarbonisation of the economy, i.e. the closure of coal plants. Here the EC insists for more ambitious deadlines and actions from our country.
- The rule of law, EC expects from Bulgaria to put forward broader anti-corruption measures, judicial reform and a substantial change in the functions of the Prosecutor General. The EC also looks forward to substantial reforms related to electro mobility, especially in the health sector, to reduce pressure on the hospital system.
At the national level, the question remains about a "subsequent revision" of the Plan, which can be undertaken by the expected regular cabinet of the Council of Ministers. In this direction, in the media space, there are already intentions, such as dropping the large project for a steam and gas plant worth over 2 billion BGN. Another revision of the Plan requires time, but under Regulation, if it is not agreed by 30 April 2022, then our country will lose the opportunity to receive funds. Provided that the regular cabinet does not amend the officially filed Plan, its approval can be expect in January 2022.
Members of the Management Board also presented information about the meetings held with representatives of state institutions in the period between the two meetings.
Meeting of the Management with the Ministry of Culture
On November 2, the NAMRB Management Board held a working meeting with the management of the Ministry of Culture. It was attended by the Vice-Presidents of the Management Board and mayors of the municipalities of Troyan and Dimitrovgrad, as well as members of the Management Board and mayors of the municipalities of Karlovo and Samokov and NAMRB Deputy Executive Director. On the part of the Ministry participated the Minister of Culture Prof. Velislav Minekov and his team. Detailed information is available on the NAMRB website: https://www.namrb.org/nsorb-zapotchna-pregovorite-po-biudzet-2022-s-otdelnite-ministerstva
Meeting with the Minister of Education and Science
On November 4, 2021, a working meeting was held with the Minister of Education and Science Nikolay Denkov on the organization of Covid-testing of children from 1st to 4th grade in school. Deputy Minister, Secretary General of the Ministry of Education, Chief of Staff of the Minister and other key experts also attended the meeting. NAMRB was presented by the Deputy Executive Director and Health and Administration Expert. A major topic of the talks was the disposal of bio-waste generated from the tests carried out to students from the initial stage. The proposal of the Ministry was to have municipalities be responsible for the transport and destruction of waste. Other request of ministry was local authorities to provide additional medical staff for the testing of children (nurses from kindergartens, crèches and social services). NAMRB presented a statement that the municipalities do not have the necessary staff and financial resources (including means of transport) for the transportation and disposal of waste, for which it is necessary to conclude contracts with specialized companies. Association proposed that the Ministry recommend school directors be more active in communicating with municipalities on the ground, and if possible provide the necessary medical professionals. As a result of the position expressed by the representatives of the NAMRB and the subsequent operational communication, the Ministry established an organization for the disposal of bio-waste without assigning additional commitments to municipalities.
Meeting with the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Forestry
On November 5, at the initiative of the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, a meeting of the NAMRB representatives was held with Minister Hristo Bozukov about the problems with the firewood supply to the population. Association was represented by the NAMRB Management Board members - Vladimir Georgiev, Mayor of Samokov municipality, Merdin Bayryam, Mayor of Varbitsa municipality and Radoslav Rewanski, Mayor of Belitsa municipality, Director of OP "Management of Municipal Lands and Forests" in Sofia Municipality, NAMRB Deputy Executive Director and team experts. More details about the discussion with the Minister of Agriculure is provided on the NAMRB website: https://www.namrb.org/predstaviteli-na-nsorb-provedocha-rabotna-sreshtcha-s-ministara-na-zemedelieto-chranite-i-gorite-po-problemite-pri-osiguriavane-na-darva-za-ogrev
The NAMRB Board took decisions on updating the Association representatives in the Monitoring Committee of operational programme "Transport and Transport Infrastructure" 2014-2020. Given that the only municipal investment in the Program is that for Sofia metro, based on Sofia Municipality proposal the Management Board appointed Christian Petrov, municipal councillor and member of the Standing Committee on Transport and Road Safety of Sofia Municipal Council, as NAMRB representative in OP TTI 2014-2020. There has been no change to our deputy representatives on the Monitoring Committee. These are Mayors of Gorna Oryahovitsa Municipality, Sopot Municipality and the NAMRB Legal Adviser.
The NAMRB Board members appoint Dr. Veselin Milev, Municipal Councilor and Vice-Chair of the Standing Committee on Public Policy and Security of Sofia Municipal Council, as a representative of the National Council for Migration, Borders, Asylum and Integration. The President of Teteven Municipal Council, Maria Stoycheva, has been appointed representative of the National Council on social inclusion issues.
NAMRB Board expressed their great appreciation for the NAMRB Executive Director’s work
Silviya Georgieva was affirmed as the NAMRB Executive Director for the second term of office
During the meeting of the Management Board, the NAMRB members adopted the report of the Executive Director and the Association administrative team for the period from 2018 to 2021. According to Article 10(1) of the NAMRB Statute, the Executive Director is one of the four management bodies of the organization. Its functions are detailed in Article 28, para 1. of the Statute and the procedure for extending its management contract in the Rules of Procedure of the NAMRB.
Together with the activity report, the NAMRB Board members also adopted the management programme 2022 -2025 and unanimously confirmed their positive assessment of the work of Executive Director Silvia Georgieva. Her first term of the office, as Executive Director was identified as extremely successful and the Management Board positively accepted the work of the NAMRB Executive Director for the term of office from 2018 to 2021 and decided to extend the management contract for the next 4 years.
Daniel Panov, NAMRB Board Chair and Mayor of Veliko Tarnovo, emphasized: "I thank to the Executive Director and the entire team for what they have done. The progress in the Association work is visible, the upgrade in the activity of the Association is tangible. The NAMRB work has become much more open and the Association expertise is often recognized and sought by other NGO’s, ministries, politicians in the formation of policy positions related to municipalities."