The price of the shiny image

The municipal administration in Sevlievo is serviced by an external PR agency but the rules of this partnership proved to be a deep secret

Илюстрация: “За истината”

Four months ago, “Pro Veritas” requested a reference for payments from Sevlievo Municipality budget for external PR services. They refused to prepare it arguing that this information could be found in the public reports of the administration. A court case followed for providing access to information and just then the absurd happened – the lawyers of the local administration in Sevlievo demanded an accounting expertise to prove that there were no records of payments made to an external PR agency in the reports therein.

In 2017 the media suddenly began to receive messages on behalf of the Municipality of Sevlievo, signed by “PR Bulgaria“ and Aneliya Skrymova. During the Days of Sevlievo in October, Skrymova is present and personally reflects the events. However, a reference on the site of the Municipality shows that under the “protocol and public relations” function there is only an e-mail address and a stationary telephone number, but not an employee’s name.

In fact, Municipality of Sevlievo has no public relations officer for about three years and it is easy to conclude from the press releases signed by “PR Bulgaria” and Aneliya Skrymova that the public communications are outsourced to external contractor. At the same time, the only way to get answers to the questions about the work of the administration is a request under the Access to Public Information Act. On specific cases, a question may also be sent to the e-mail address provided on the municipal site, but it is never certain whether this question will receive an answer. This means that “PR Bulgaria” or Aneliya Skrymova have no obligation to “speak” on behalf of the Municipality, but rather to take care of its image.

What is the price?

In April this year, under the order of the Access to Public Information Act, information on the price of PR services used by the local administration in Sevlievo was requested. The four specific questions submitted were the following:

1. On what basis is “PR Bulgaria” working with the Municipality of Sevlievo?

2. By what criteria was the Agency selected?

3. Is there an effective contract between the Municipality and “PR Bulgaria”?

4. What is the price of the services used?

Only the third question was answered. The answer was: “There is no effective contract between the Municipality of Sevlievo and “PR Bulgaria”.

On the question how the agency was selected, the answer was that this is in fact a “request for explanation” from Ivan Ivanov, Mayor of Sevlievo and this is not public information. As for the price of the PR services used by his administration – “there is no material carrier for the requested information”. The answer to the last question also contained a recommendation that it be sought in the municipal financial statements, which are public.

The case is transferred to Court

All the information requested by “Pro Veritas” should be public and subject to submission, so the refusal of the Sevlievo Municipality to provide access to it was challenged before the Administrative Court in Gabrovo. In July this year, the court adjudicated a hearing in which the municipality of Sevlievo was represented by a Sofia law firm, although the Municipality has four lawyers with full time employment contract.

At this hearing, the lawyer of the Municipality asked the court to allow the preparation of an accounting expert’s report, as there was no material carrier of the requested information. According to the lawer, “an expert witness, after reviewing the published report that is public on the site of the municipality as well as the budget for 2017-2018 should give an answer whether it is possible to ascertain from these material carriers what the total amount of payments to “PR Bulgaria” are for the whole of 2017 and for the elapsed period of 2018. “

The secrets of the financial statements

For all those who work with public statements for spending of budget funds it is clear that the costs in these statements are not itemsed by individuals and companies, but by items and paragraphs according to the budget classification. This means that from the statements there is no way to get a reference on payments to a specific company, in this case of “PR Bulgaria”. If the purpose of the lawyers hired by the municipality of Sevlievo is to prove this, it is not necessary to spend taxpayers’ money. Unless, the expertise required by them reveals exactly where the numbers for which the questions were asked are hidden.

The situation looks a bit like a shimmer’s game – “it is here, it is not here”. Moreover, Anelia Skrymova herself does not deny that she receives remuneration from the Municipality of Sevlievo for her work, although she has no contract for it. “It is more about charity,” she said in a telephone conversation with “Pro Veritas” in May this year. And if the lack of a contract was also confirmed by the local administration, it is curious to see on what basis “PR Bulgaria” or the owner of the company receive payments and in what amount? But, as has already become clear, this information is “not available”.

And what if there is no information indeed?

The lack of payment data does not mean that they have not been made. The question is to whom and against what. It is possible that Anelia Skrymova received money against a contract for the provision of services as a physical person. If so, however, on what grounds her press releases, sent to the media in Sevlievo, were signed with “PR Bulgaria”, with which the Municipality has no contract? Another option is that money were transferred against an invoice issued by another company, but the issue of signatures under the press releases remains pending.

Lack of answers usually provokes suspicions that something must be silenced. In this specific case, the doubts had a further reason, when a week after “Pro Veritas” showed interest in “PR Bulgaria”, the owner of the agency was changed.

Coincidences?

According to data of the system for company intelligence – Daxi, dated 5 December 2015, Yordanka Evtimova is the manager and the sole proprietor of “PR Bulgaria” and the company is registered at an address in Pernik. The phone number for contact with Yordanka Evtimova is the same as the one indicated by Anelia Skrymova. Both of them used the same email address. At about the same time, Skrymova is the manager of “Green Publishing”, a company owned by Rostislav Petrov and Hafize Yahova, based in Lovech.

The conversations of “Pro Veritas” with Skrymova were on 14 and 15 May this year. A week later, on May 22, the Trade Register registered a change in circumstances and the sole proprietor and manager of “PR Bulgaria” is no longer Yordanka Evtimova but Anelia Skrymova. Maybe it is coincidence?

Immediately after the publication  „The secret PR of Municipality Sevlievo“, press releases signed with “PR Bulgaria” and Anelia Skrymova stopped arriving to the journalists in Sevlievo. “Pro Veritas” sources, which refuse to be quoted, however, claim that Skrymova continues to work as a PR for the administration of the Mayor Ivan Ivanov. The next hearing in the case against the refusal to provide information about the relations between the Municipality of Sevlievo and “PR Bulgaria” is scheduled for October 4th, this year.

 

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