Bulgarians blame corruption for deadly bus accident

30th May 2009, Comments 0 comments

The bus had passed technical tests on May 12, but road police commissioner Aleksi Stratiev said he "doubts the manner in which this examination was performed," in an interview with 24 Hours newspaper on Friday.

Sofia -- Bulgaria on Friday mourned the death of 16 people in a bus accident following brake failure, amid mounting outrage over rampant corruption that allows decrepit vehicles to stay on the roads.

Sixteen tourists were killed and over 20 injured on Thursday near the southeastern town of Yambol when the brakes of a 30-year-old bus failed, sending it in reverse down a narrow mountain road filled with pedestrians on their way to attend a traditional Ascension day feast.

The bus had passed technical tests on May 12, but road police commissioner Aleksi Stratiev said he "doubts the manner in which this examination was performed," in an interview with 24 Hours newspaper on Friday.

Over 700 private car service companies are authorised to conduct the obligatory annual technical tests in Bulgaria, and car owners often prefer to go to them to avoid the more thorough road police tests.

A road administration official admitted on national television that computer data from the bus test "could also have been manipulated."

"I take my 20-year-old Zastava to a garage for checks. I pay and they do not look that closely. If they start delving, I will just go somewhere else," Pavel Ivanov, a driver from Sofia, told AFP.

"If tests were conducted as they should be, 30 percent of all cars on the roads would be removed from circulation," added Stoyan Zhelev, president of the Association of Car Manufacturers.

Thursday's bus crash was not the first of its kind: in December 2006, 18 people were killed after the brakes of an old and overloaded truck failed and it slammed into a bus and sent it hurtling into a river.

"In 2008, new cars accounted for only 15 percent of all vehicles registered in the country. Bulgaria has one of the oldest car fleets in Europe," Zhelev said.

"Bulgaria has become the car cemetery of Western Europe," the Standard daily newspaper added Friday, hinting at the existence of "an affinity between the car mafia and legislators."

Bulgarian legislation poses no obstacles to the import of second-hand cars and it does not encourage people to buy new ones either.

"Any such idea is regarded by the government and the parliament as some kind of heresy," Zhelev said.

This had led to overcrowded roads in big cities and high pollution levels as most of the old vehicles lack catalysers.

Poorly maintained roads also contribute to the rising number of accidents, drivers complain.

Bulgaria has only 418 kilometres (260 miles) of highways, and two-thirds of the remaining 19,000 kilometres of roads need repair.

Some 1,000 people die in road accidents every year despite hourly warnings on the national radio that say: "The war on the roads goes on. Drive responsibly to arrive safely."

Experts also cite poor driving skills and corruption in granting driving licences as two more reasons for the high number of accidents.

In a recent investigation by bTV private television and the 168 Hours weekly newspaper, a journalist paid 320 leva (160 euros, 226 dollars) and got a driving licence without even setting foot in a car.

The same reporter also got himself a professional bus driving licence for 550 leva (280 euros) from another driving school. The school did not even have a training bus.

AFP/Expatica

 

 

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