09. May 2023

Rolling out Bulgaria’s new Whistleblower Protection Act

Launching the public information campaign on the new Whistleblower Protection Act
A multi-stakeholder roundtable on 28 April 2023 raised awareness of Bulgaria’s new Whistleblower Protection Act and its implications

The passing of a Whistleblower Protection Act in Bulgaria on 27 January 2023 was a major step forward for the country’s anti-corruption efforts. The law, which will take full effect on 17 December 2023, finally brings Bulgaria into line with the EU’s 2019 Whistleblowing Protection Directive. Now come the bigger steps: implementing it effectively and informing the public of both its provisions and its importance as an anti-corruption tool.

To this end, since the adoption of the new law, the Basel Institute’s International Centre for Asset Recovery (ICAR) has been providing technical assistance to the Commission for Protection for Personal Data (CPDP) – the central external commission responsible for implementation.

Multi-stakeholder roundtable

On 28 April, ICAR together with CPDP and the Bulgarian Institute for Legal Initiatives (BILI) co-hosted a roundtable that launched the public information campaign on the new law. Held in person in the capital Sofia, the event saw over 100 stakeholders from the public and private sectors, media and civil society come together to increase understanding of the law and its implications in practice.

Emphasising the law’s importance for Bulgarian citizens and businesses as well as the country’s overall anti-corruption efforts, our Team Lead in Bulgaria, Renne Traicova, presented findings from our recent public opinion research on perceptions of corruption and anti-corruption in Bulgaria. Due to be published shortly, our survey found among other things that:

  • corruption is the second most named problem in Bulgaria, after high prices and inflation;
  • fighting corruption should be a first priority for the next government;
  • people are more likely to report corruption if the barriers to reporting are lowered and if they are personally negatively affected.

Developing the law, achieving consensus

The unanimous passing of the law by Bulgaria’s Parliament on 27 January was a victory in itself. Political volatility and changes in government – of which the country has seen a lot in recent years – are not conducive to law-making and consensus.

The law’s text was primarily developed under former Minister of Justice Nadezhda Yordanova (DB) in the cabinet of Kiril Petkov (PP), and in the latter stages by caretaker Minister of Justice Krum Zarkov (BSP). We were pleased to see the advice of our ICAR specialists taken into account in the draft law, together with the results of a public consultation forum facilitated by our consultant Stephen M. Kohn, an international expert and founder of the U.S. National Whistleblower Center.

Following a separate session to advise experts of the GERB party, which presented the legislation to Parliament with minor amendments, we facilitated a cross-party meeting between three parties that are typically opponents: DB, GERB and BSP. Held on 6 January at the Bulgarian National Assembly, the three party representatives held a constructive debate that led to a workable consensus on the proposed bill and favourable unanimous support in parliament.

Within a highly polarised parliamentary atmosphere and imminent snap election scheduled for April, this was a significant achievement before the dismissal of Parliament.

The law in brief

The Whistleblower Protection Act mandates the establishment of channels for internal whistleblowing reports and the designation of the CPDP as the central body to process external reports and forward them to the competent authorities.

Employers in the public and private sectors which meet prescribed criteria are obliged to establish their own internal whistleblowing channels:

  • In the public sector, municipalities with fewer than 10,000 inhabitants or fewer than 50 employees can share resources with other municipalities for receiving and processing whistleblowing reports.
  • In the private sector, the obligation to establish a reporting channel covers employers with 50 or more employees.

Whistleblower protection must be provided, covering retaliation or threats in the form of dismissal, demotion, disciplinary action, early termination or contract cancellation. The protection will be available to any whistleblower, their assistants, colleagues and relatives, as well as people who make the information public and disclose it.

A fine of BGN 2,000–8,000 (EUR 1,022–4,090) or stronger will be imposed on anyone who retaliates or who initiates proceedings against a whistleblower with the sole intention of harming them.

Moving ahead with our partners

We look forward to continuing to assist our partners at the CPDP on the implementation of the new law, including with additional local and international expertise.

Many thanks to our fellow organisers and speakers at the 28 April event: Ventzislav Karadjov, Veselin Tselkov, Tsanko Tzolov and Maria Mateva from the CPDP; Tsvetomir Todorov and Byliana Gyaurova-Wegersteder from BILI; Maria Yordanova from the Center for the Study of Democracy (CSD); Renne Traicova, the Basel Institute’s Team Lead in Bulgaria, and Mihail Boyadziev, a local senior legal consultant for the Basel Institute.

Thank you also to USAID, CSD and the core donors of ICAR for the ongoing support to our work in Bulgaria.