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Originally published in Novinar daily.


OPAC is the only programme financed by the European Social Fund that can really make a difference in terms of the administration's image and functioning.


Close-up: Mon­i­ka Dim­it­ro­va-Beech­er holds a Mas­ter's Degree in Law and Inter­na­tion­al Rela­tions from St. Kli­ment Ohrid­ski Sofia Uni­ver­si­ty Fac­ul­ty of Law. She has also com­plet­ed law and pub­lic pro­cure­ment spe­cial­i­za­tion cours­es at Cam­bridge and Dublin Uni­ver­si­ties in the UK, The?Ha­gue?A­cad­em­ie of?In­ter­na­tion­al Law, the Neth­er­lands. She has a Pro­fes­sion­al Cer­tif­i­cate in Man­age­ment and Lead­er­ship from the?In­ter­na­tion­al Cen­tre for Par­lia­men­ta­ry Stud­i­es?(ICPS), UK. She has more than 10 years of pro­fes­sion­al expe­ri­ence in the state admin­is­tra­tion, hav­ing start­ed as a jun­ior expert and going all the way up the career lad­der. In her capac­i­ty of Min­is­try of Finance legal advis­or, she was part of the team that nego­ti­at­ed the Schen­gen instru­ment and EU pre-acces­sion instru­ments. Since Jan­u­ary 2011, she has been head of the Oper­a­tion­al Pro­gramme Admin­is­tra­tive Capac­i­ty (OPAC) Man­a­ging Author­i­ty.


- Ms. Dim­it­ro­va-Beech­er, how is the ful­film­ent of this year's OPAC agen­da going?
- I dare say that to date, OPAC agen­da is being ful­filled accord­ing to sched­ule with some expect­ed over­per­form­ance in terms of sev­er­al chan­ges to our Indic­a­tive Annu­al Agen­da (IAA) for 2013. That is why we can report the fact that we meet the expec­ta­tions of ben­e­fi­ci­a­ries and end con­sum­ers of results under the imple­ment­ed pro­jects with the nec­es­sa­ry flex­i­bil­i­ty and pro­fes­sion­al­ism. In the aft­er­math of the lat­est amend­ments, the agen­da includes 11 pro­ce­dures for the pro­vi­sion of finan­cial grants, of which 9 are already under way. August saw an increase in the total budg­et under munic­i­pal admin­is­tra­tion pro­ce­dure from BGN 6.5 mil­lion to BGN 14 mil­lion. The rea­son for the pro­posed change was very strong inter­est and the good qual­i­ty of the project pro­pos­als sub­mit­ted under the pro­ce­dure. In addi­tion, the Min­is­try of Trans­port, Infor­ma­tion Tech­nol­o­gy and Com­mu­ni­ca­tions (MTITC) has been includ­ed as a ben­e­fi­ci­ary under pri­or­i­ty axis II, sub-pri­or­i­ty 2.2. The min­is­try is the author­i­ty in charge of e-gov­ern­ment imple­men­ta­tion in Bul­gar­ia and has hor­i­zon­tal func­tions relat­ed to spe­cif­ic train­ing of cen­tral admin­is­tra­tion employ­ees in the IT sec­tor. We have also add­ed a new appli­ca­tion pro­ce­dure for MTITC with a budg­et of BGN 2 mil­lion. Mean­while, we plan new chan­ges in the 2013 IAA by the end of the year to include addi­tion­al pro­ce­dures or to increase the budg­et of exist­ing ones so that at the end of the year we can have a con­tract­ed budg­et and hope­ful­ly a lit­tle more on top of it in order to avoid loss­es.


- What have you planned in par­tic­u­lar?
- We seek to build on efforts to enhance cen­tral and munic­i­pal admin­is­tra­tion employ­ees' qual­i­fi­ca­tion and expert­ise through tar­get­ed train­ing cours­es. There­fore, we plan to include a new pro­ce­dure under what is known as sub-pri­or­i­ty 2.2 for Com­pe­tent and Effi­cient State Admin­is­tra­tion. Cen­tral and munic­i­pal admin­is­tra­tion can apply under it with pro­jects ran­ging from BGN 20,000 to BGN 90,000 for a total of BGN 2 mil­lion. We are also going to pro­vide oppor­tu­ni­ties for spe­cif­ic ben­e­fi­ci­a­ries in the judi­ci­ary sys­tem to sub­mit new pro­jects for the enhance­ment of com­pe­tence and pro­fes­sion­al qual­i­fi­ca­tions of judg­es, court assist­ants, clerks, pros­e­cu­tors and inves­ti­ga­tors. To this end, we will intro­duce a new pro­ce­dure under sub-pri­or­i­ty 2.4 Com­pe­tent Judi­ci­ary Sys­tem and Effi­cient Human Resour­ces Man­age­ment with a total budg­et of BGN 3 mil­lion. The min­i­mum grant will be BGN 100,000 and there will be no max­i­mum lim­it. The Supreme Judi­cial Coun­cil and its Inspec­tor­ate, the Supreme Admin­is­tra­tive Court, Supreme Court of Cas­sa­tion, Repub­lic of Bul­gar­i­a's Pub­lic Pros­e­cu­tor's office and the Min­is­try of Inte­ri­or are eli­gi­ble for finan­cial aid.

We will addi­tion­al­ly open a new pro­ce­dure aimed at improv­ing admin­is­tra­tive serv­ice, includ­ing through the devel­op­ment of high-qual­i­ty cus­tom­er-cen­tred elec­tron­ic admin­is­tra­tive serv­i­ces. Under it, cen­tral admin­is­tra­tions will be able to apply with project pro­pos­als ran­ging from BGN 50,000 to 80,000 for a total of BGN 10 mil­lion.

Seek­ing to build on the Sin­gle Infor­ma­tion Sys­tem for Com­bat­ing Crime, we are now plan­ning one more pro­ce­dure tar­get­ing pros­e­cu­tion and esti­mat­ed at BGN 2 mil­lion. It aims to increase the effi­cien­cy and trans­par­en­cy in the func­tion­ing of the judi­ci­ary through the imple­men­ta­tion of auto­mat­ed infor­ma­tion sys­tems. And we are work­ing on some oth­er ideas as well.


- How do you assess OPAC per­form­ance at the end of the pro­gram­ming peri­od?
- At present, the pro­gramme is far­ing real­ly well. With pro­jects under way and pro­ce­dures to be announced by the end of the year, we fore­cast per­form­ance, and even over­per­form­ance in some cas­es, of the pro­gramme indi­ca­tors. And this means that the pro­gramme has been deliv­er­ing. In terms of finan­cial per­form­ance, the budg­et con­tract­ed since the launch of OPAC totals more than BGN 293 mil­lion, or 82.9%, of which BGN 174.9 mil­lion, 49.5% of all OPAC funds, have been paid out. Eli­gi­ble expens­es incurred by OPAC ben­e­fi­ci­a­ries since 1 Jan­u­ary 2007 are cur­rent­ly esti­mat­ed at near­ly BGN 148 mil­lion. As a result of stepped up ver­i­fi­ca­tion in the past two months, we have drawn up a new cer­ti­fi­ca­tion report to the EC request­ing financ­ing almost BGN 13 mil­lion worth of costs. Thus, this year alone has seen 4 cer­ti­fi­ca­tion reports with funds financed by the EC amount­ing to some BGN 135 mil­lion so far. For com­par­i­son, ver­i­fied funds in 2013 so far amount to BGN 40.5 mil­lion, up by 30% on the entire 2012. As for con­tract­ing, since the begin­ning of the year, we have con­clud­ed 293 con­tracts worth a total of BGN 46 mil­lion. We plan to con­tract 100%, and even a lit­tle on the high­er side, and fast-track ver­i­fi­ca­tion in view of tar­get per­form­ance and min­i­miz­ing the risk of loss of funds. Mean­while, July saw the release of a study of the need for over-con­tract­ing of the budg­et­ed funds for max­i­mum use of the OPAC budg­et by the end of the pro­gram­ming peri­od. Our team is work­ing at full throt­tle and I believe results are a good enough eval­u­a­tion of the ade­quate imple­men­ta­tion of the pro­gramme despite some slight delays in past peri­ods. We are doing our best to attain the goals set, but still a lot depends on our ben­e­fi­ci­a­ries.


- What does the study show? Where do the main prob­lems lie?
- The main prob­lems are relat­ed to per­form­ance of project activ­i­ties, as well as impos­ing finan­cial cor­rec­tions result­ing from break­ing or abus­ing nation­al and Euro­pe­an leg­is­la­tion most­ly in pub­lic pro­cure­ment. Even at the lat­est project man­age­ment train­ing course - the kind that we reg­u­lar­ly organ­ise - I once again advised ben­e­fi­ci­a­ries to take into account, when set­ting require­ments to par­tic­i­pants, the spe­ci­fics of indi­vid­u­al activ­i­ties as it is nec­es­sa­ry to pro­vide rea­son­a­ble and legit­i­mate argu­ments jus­ti­fy­ing the par­tic­i­pa­tion require­ments set. Also, they should care­ful­ly read rec­om­men­da­tions we give to make it eas­ier for them, as well as addi­tion­al mate­ri­als and instruc­tions we draw up to help them.


- And what is the prac­ti­cal use of imple­ment­ed OPAC pro­jects?
- It takes more than just a few words to present the results. On the pro­gramme web­site, there is a close-up, includ­ing a rath­er detailed report on what has been achieved under OPAC. I can give spe­cif­ic exam­ples. The Coun­cil of Min­is­ters has cre­at­ed a web por­tal on stu­dent intern­ship pro­grammes with selec­tion and hir­ing of stu­dents done entire­ly online. In just two months since set­ting up the por­tal, more than 600 stu­dents have under­gone train­ee­ship in the state admin­is­tra­tion. Under anoth­er OPAC project, the Geod­e­sy, Car­tog­ra­phy and Cadas­tre Agen­cy imple­ment­ed an elec­tron­ic sys­tem for man­a­ging com­plaints, sug­ges­tions and sig­nals, pro­vid­ing now access to serv­i­ces for vis­u­al­ly impaired peo­ple and to for­eign cli­ents through online trans­la­tion. The State Com­mis­sion on Gam­bling, with OPAC sup­port, has devel­oped a new auto­mat­ed infor­ma­tion sys­tem, elec­tron­ic admin­is­tra­tive serv­i­ces and elec­tron­ic reg­is­ters, and a Sofia region project involved mak­ing inter­im assess­ment of and updat­ing munic­i­pal devel­op­ment plans for six munic­i­pal­i­ties. Anal­y­ses and rec­om­men­da­tions made as part of the project under­lie the new Strat­e­gy for the Devel­op­ment of Sofia Region in 2014-2020. We have also made short films and leaf­lets, which are pub­lished on our web­site. This is the only pro­gramme financed by the Euro­pe­an Social Fund that can real­ly make a dif­fer­ence in terms of the admin­is­tra­tion's image and func­tion­ing.


- What do you do to make things eas­ier for ben­e­fi­ci­a­ries?
- In view of accel­er­at­ing project expense cer­ti­fi­ca­tion, the OPAC team has sig­nif­i­cant­ly reduced ver­i­fi­ca­tion dead­lines. Fur­ther­more, reg­u­lar meet­ings are held with ben­e­fi­ci­a­ries to make sure they imple­ment and report on pro­jects cor­rect­ly and sub­mit pay­ment claims. OPAC Man­a­ging Author­i­ty pub­lish­es ref­er­ence books, instruc­tions, infor­ma­tion on com­mon mis­takes and guide­lines for project imple­men­ta­tion under the pro­gramme. Aft­er new con­tracts have been signed, ben­e­fi­ci­a­ries under­go oblig­a­to­ry train­ing on cor­rect project imple­men­ta­tion and min­i­miz­ing the risk of impos­ing finan­cial sanc­tions. Our team puts a lot of effort into increas­ing capac­i­ty and help­ing ben­e­fi­ci­a­ries. We have recent­ly cre­at­ed a brief hand­book of prac­ti­cal advice how to avoid com­mon mis­takes. All spe­cif­ic rec­om­men­da­tions and com­mon cas­es are includ­ed in the doc­u­ments that the OPAC team has espe­cial­ly drawn up to help ben­e­fi­ci­a­ries. They are avail­a­ble on OPAC web­site. It must be tak­en into con­sid­er­a­tion, though, that the proc­ess is not uni­lat­er­al and con­sist­en­cy is need­ed on ben­e­fi­ci­ar­y's part so that the efforts of every­body in the OPAC imple­men­ta­tion proc­ess are not wast­ed.


- The cur­rent pro­gramme peri­od is end­ing and at the moment, 2014-2020 pro­grammes are being pre­pared. Will there be anoth­er pro­gramme for admin­is­tra­tion?
- Yes, it has already been decid­ed. The pro­gramme will be called Good Gov­ern­ance and will build on OPAC results. It will include activ­i­ties that are cur­rent­ly cov­ered by Tech­ni­cal Assist­ance Oper­a­tion­al Pro­gramme. The top pri­or­i­ty, how­e­ver, will still be pol­i­cies relat­ed to admin­is­tra­tive reforms, e-gov­ern­ment devel­op­ment and judi­ci­ary reforms. The devel­op­ment of this pro­gramme has been launched a lit­tle lat­er than most of the oth­er oper­a­tion­al pro­grammes, but I tru­ly hope that we, with our part­ners from the Coun­cil of Min­is­ters, will be able to make up for the delay and the pro­gramme will be a fact with­in a few months.

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