SOFIA: Bulgaria’s ministers of public works, transport and interior affairs resigned on Friday after heavy criticism directed at the government over a deadly tourist bus crash.
“The three ministers — me, Transport Minister Ivaylo Moskovski and Interior Minister Valentin Radev — tabled our resignations today,” regional development and public works Minister Nikolay Nankov told journalists.
Seventeen passengers died when their bus ran off the road in torrential rain and plunged 20 meters into a river gorge in western Bulgaria on Saturday. Four people also remain in a critical condition.
Centre-right Prime Minister Boyko Borisov had earlier on Friday asked the three ministers to step down, days after initial results from a probe into the crash found the road had been recently repaired using a substandard quality of asphalt.
The interior ministry has meanwhile been accused of failing to respond to a number of complaints in recent months by drivers from the nearby town of Svoge who had raised worries over an increasing number of accidents on the section of road concerned.
The ageing bus had also not undergone one of two obligatory technical checks by the transport ministry authorities.
The bus driver is the only person who has been charged over the crash so far.
But the results of the early probe has revived a recurrent debate about the poor state of Bulgaria’s roads and its corruption-ridden public tender system.
“The tragedy near Svoge highlighted the vicious system in public procurement and construction works — impunity everywhere. It is obvious but because of it people die,” Bulgarian President Rumen Radev commented Thursday.
Allegations have been rife that a large share of the funds for road repair projects — often coming from EU aid — are pocketed by firms close to power, leaving just a fraction for the actual repairs.
A famous former dissident from the communist era, Nikolay Kolev — also known as ‘Bosia’ — told AFP on Friday he had ended the hunger strike he began on June 13.
He had been demanding Moskovski’s resignation after revelations about corruption in the agency that awards drivers’ licences.
Eleven years after joining the European Union in 2007, Bulgaria remains the bloc’s poorest country with just one fully completed border-to-border highway and much of its road network in a bad state.
In 2017, Bulgaria recorded 96 deaths per million inhabitants on its roads, according to Eurostat. That is the second highest rate in the EU after Romania and more than double the European average.–AFP