Action Plan on Suspended SAPARD Measures Should Be Ready by July 10

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A working group under the Agriculture and Food Ministry has until July 10 to prepare an action plan in connection with the SAPARD Program measures the funding for which has been suspended by the European Commission, the Government Information Service said Thursday, BTA reported.

The SAPARD Paying Agency will immediately put the plan into operation, according to a report by Deputy Prime Minister Meglena Plougchieva on progress in the absorption of EU funds and implementation of the measures under the remedial action plan on implementat5ion of pre-accession programs and Community structural instruments. The report and other documents were considered at an operational meeting of the Council of Ministers on Thursday.

The Cabinet assigned the Finance Minister to commission an additional KPMG audit of the transactions and a possible conflict of interest in the Phare and ISPA projects implemented by the National Road Infrastructure Fund (NRIF), as well as of the activities and operations of the Phare Implementing Agency at the Ministry of Regional Development and Public Works in which the NRIF is a beneficiary.

The activities and transactions performed by the NRIF in 2007 in its capacity as spending unit will be audited as well, along with a possible conflict of interest for the same period. The auditors will be asked to prepare an interim report on the ten Phare projects with the NRIF as beneficiary, which have been suspended. The final audit report should be ready by September 10, 2008.

Plougchieva writes in her analysis that addressing the situation with the EU program requires a total concentration and coordination of the efforts of the entire administration engaged in the management and absorption of resources from the EU funds.

Administrative capacity is the major hurdle to the implementation of the operational programs, both at the level of Managing Authorities and Intermediate Bodies and at the level of beneficiaries. The implementation rules under the separate programs have to be simplified, and the transparency and publicity of their implementation must be enhanced.

The Deputy PM stresses in her report that two problems remain outstanding: about the financing of municipalities before conclusion of contracts with the Managing Authorities, and about the final completion of projects by municipalities before receipt of a final payment under the project. A positive assessment has to be obtained for the conformity of the management and control systems for the Managing Authorities, the Certifying Authority and the Audit Authority.

The Ministers also considered a report on strengthening the administrative capacity of the structures and units responsible for the management of EU financial resources. According to the summarized information of the interdepartmental working group, these units need additional tenured positions. In order to avoid an increase of the staffing schedule in the state administration, the report proposes a restructuring within the system of the ministries concerned, with the teams currently working under the Phare Program being redirected to the various operational programs after its completion.

The working group suggests that employees receive annual differentiated incentive bonuses whose maximum amount may not exceed the recipient's basic annual salary. Bonuses will be paid after a Council of Ministers decision based on the Annual Progress Report on the operational programs, submitted by the Deputy Prime Minister. On a monthly basis, the Deputy Prime Minister will also report on training in the separate units.

In line with the European Commission's European Transparency Initiative, the working group proposes that a name list of the beneficiaries, of the projects approved for financing and of the amount of funds disbursed be posted on the Internet site of each operational program; that all up-to-date information be uploaded on the www.eufunds.bg portal of the Finance Ministry; and that the site of each operational program provide links to the other operational programs and they be registered in the www.google.com browser.

The Internet sites of the administrative structures responsible for the management of EU funds must be standardized by July 10. They must provide information on the project preparation steps and must refer to simulation models.

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