Asen Lichev: The dams are full, there will be drinking water for the Black Sea coast

08 Jun, 2021 | 18:37

Asen Lichev: The dams are full, there will be drinking water for the Black Sea coast


08 June 2021 / 18:37


The Minister of Environment and Water Asen Lichev on the BTV talk show "Face to Face"


Conversation with Asen Lichev, Minister of Environment and Water

Topic: The work of the caretaker government; audit at the Ministry of Environment and Water; water management

Guest: Asen Lichev, Minister of Environment and Water


Host: Today’s guest said at the beginning of his term in office that the main goal of the caretaker government is to break down the technology used for the breakdown of statehood. Is it possible for this to happen in two months and how can it be done? My conversation with the Minister of Environment and Water Asen Lichev begins. Hello, Mr. Lichev.

Asen Lichev: Good afternoon.

Host: How is the technology for dismantling the state to be broken down?

Asen Lichev: The broadcast time for your tlak show will be short to elaborate on this in its entirety, but I will cut it short. There are two ways. One is to arrest the Minister of Environment and Water and a week later the Deputy Minister. So everyone who comes next is already afraid, because, as you know, both the minister and the deputy minister have not yet been convicted. You do admit the presumption of innocence until conviction...

Host: That's how I was brought up.

Asen Lichev: I was brought up that way too.

Host: And now we are waiting to see how scary it was for this minister to lie for months.

Asen Lichev: That's right. The next minister came, but he was also afraid. He even said that the entire administration did not want to sign any document because it was afraid too. This is a partial example of fear that is instilled and so a whole institution like the ministry is dismantled. Let us more forward to 2021 - the beginning. What is established? Last year, when the National Assembly voted on the budget, it set a ceiling for the Enterprise for the management of environmental protection activities, which was almost exhausted in the first quarter and there is no more money in it. And this situation can be corrected only by the National Assembly. The budget of the Ministry, due to the fact that it was transferred the obligations of two tasks by OPE in the amount of 8.5 million and contracts for 1.5 million BGN with the Executive agency had been concluded, the Ministry appears to be in 10 million BGN, as I like to call it colloquially, deficit, it is not exactly the correct term.

Host: You have gone bankrupt.

Asen Lichev: At the moment, in this way, as you can see yourself, no policy can be designed when you have no budget. I will find reserves, I will re-evaluate, including the concluded contracts for subsistence needs. But today the tip of the ice cream was the TV show by Valya Ahchieva, in which a scheme was revealed - you get the highest additional financial incentive to your monthly wage, in a week we report you to a prosecutor.

Host: Who did this? I couldn't watch, sorry.

Asen Lichev: This is Minister Emil Dimitrov.

Host: Gives someone additional financial incentive...

Asen Lichev: Yes, to the General Directorate OPE. On April 9th he received a report that everything was fine there and he gave them 200% additional financial incentive - 563,000 BGN to 102 people.

Host: That's a lot.

Asen Lichev: There are many such cases. The others take an average of 40%. And a week later, on the 16th, the same person who was the Director, who has vanished since, I can't find him, but this is not a topic of this conversation, writes a report on how catastrophic  the situation in OPE is. And it turns out that on the basis of this report, Minister Emil Dimitrov reports OPE to the Prosecutor General as per his statement, which I heard today, and that of Kovesi. Isn't what I described a dismantled ministry? This is the technology.

Host: This is absurd, I still can't put my head around it.

Asen Lichev: I couldn't either.

Host: I reward you and then I report you to a prosecutor.

Asen Lichev: Yes. So it happened.

Host: These are the mechanisms in general. Well, let's start with the specific topics, and then about the mechanisms, because your mandate under the Constitution should be short.

Asen Lichev: And I hope so.

Host: That's why I want to take advantage of your participation here on specific topics. Will there be an episode 2 of the water crisis? What we saw in Pernik was scary.

Asen Lichev: As long as I am a minister - there is no way, regardless of the short term, because I have been taught not to create water crises.

Host: And does that depend on you?

Asen Lichev: Undoubtedly. Because I am a specialist in this field and now I happen to be the minister...

Host: You are a hydraulic engineer - let's tell the viewers if they don't know.

Asen Lichev: But God also helped us, because despite the management of the previous government, the dams are full.

Host: And what would have happened otherwise...

Asen Lichev: Then there would have been the need for the art to manage the water sector, which I master. There would have been no water crisis again. Here we have the dams.

Host: That is, everything is full.

Asen Lichev: I want to reassure the audience that drinking water until the end of the year, and especially on the Black Sea coast...

Host: That is exactly what I was about to ask you - a feeling was created, I remember a visit by Revizoro to the Parliament, that Varna and Burgas will be left without water.

Asen Lichev: This was a fake alarm. This was all to justify the provision of 60 million BGN for the so-called “Aheloy” and “Poroy” dams, which are very small compared to the “Kamchia” dam, which is currently overflowing. The “Yasna Polyana” dam also overflows. Therefore, for some 60 million BGN.

Host: That is, for some 60 million BGN, people in Eastern Bulgaria experienced the horror of thinking that they would not have a drop of water.

Asen Lichev: That's right. Back then I spoke on all media outlets and said that there would be no problem, and it has proven true since, but the 60 million BGN are spent. They are gone out from the Ministry. I can't tell you where they have gone.

Host: How are they gone? What have they been given for?

Asen Lichev: They were given to accommodate “Aheloy” and “Poroy” and the water supply system of Burgas, in case the “Kamchia” dam runs empty. But there is a very different dam, a larger one – “Tsonevo”, or “Georgi Traikov”, which currently has 140 million cubic meters of water. And they don't use it for drinking water.

Host: Why?

Asen Lichev: I don't know, I have no idea.

Host: Well, check it out.

Asen Lichev: I know what the facts are.

Host: But do tell them! Today we have to tell each other everything.

Asen Lichev: In 2019, in a letter by Nankov, Deputy Minister of Regional Development, it was notified to the Minister of Environment and Water that the “Tsonevo” Dam should be deprived of the permit to serve as an emergency drinking water supply for Varna. Because, I don't know what the reason was, the tower wasn't repaired for instance. And our minister revoked the permit. And thus the water crisis was created, so to speak - well, “Kamchia” was empty, there was no drinking water, 60 million for “Aheloy” and “Poroy” to fill Kamchia. Did I explain it understandably?

Host: You said it understandably. I just want to touch upon more topics, otherwise I would have asked more questions.

Asen Lichev: Don’t, as we don't have the time.

Host: We don’t have the time. People cannot be psychologically affected if there is no problem. We had quite enough of the pandemic, of the Pernik tragedy...

Asen Lichev: And most of all the essentials.

Host: And now I don't know, if it's for 60 million, you will see, you will make conclusions. On a different notе, what is the plot with Petrohan, why did you return it for correction?

Asen Lichev: I can say it in two ways. One is like a joke about the one who prays to God today: Let me win a six at the lottery! And God finally couldn't resist and said to him: Play the lottery for once! And the Road Infrastructure Agency (RIA) had done the same – they simply played the lottery not by marking three but only one number. That is, in simple terms, they had submitted documentation, which did not offer alternatives and, unfortunately, here in red the route passes through several protected areas. As this route is neither high-speed nor a highway, there are no special requirements for slope and bends, it can be easily moved and there will be no collision. Today at 12.00 I spoke with Mr Apostol Minchev, who is Chairman of the Board of RIA. He made a commitment to submit a clear investment intention within two weeks and the construction process will be continued. So much on the issue.

Host: Good. Now I remembered something about water. And since we agreed to talk about everything on the table...

Asen Lichev: Here it is!

Host: I remember, I will even quote Kumanov from fishing club Balkanika, he said on your account that you have closed your eyes for the small hydropower plants. Because I heard, when we talked about the water crises, hydropower is a big problem and part of the story when it comes to trouble.

Asen Lichev: I can remind Kumanov that he was present when Metodi Andreev came to then Minister Ivelina Vasileva and together with him we proposed that the National Assembly should vote on a moratorium on permits for hydropower plants. This is what Kumanov probably remembers. However, politicians did not decide to vote for a moratorium. The second thing that Kumanov forgot was that he was member of a working group on the ordinance on fish passages, which was to make the built hydropower plants environmentally friendly, that is, to put some steps through which fish can migrate. They did not finish thier work and this was the only regulation that could give grounds to reconsider some of the permits.

Host: I understand you. I know that this is in the past, but since the past is important for the present and the future - what is your reading, why did the tragedy in Pernik with the lack of water come about? And then to collect water from all around, to make canals and so on, with which to transport water from Sofia to Pernik.

Asen Lichev: You know that in Bulgaria no investigation is brought to completion.

Host: That's why I want to return to the topic about Pernik.

Asen Lichev: This is the bad management of the dam. Two ministers are to blame - one was Neno Dimov, who signed the monthly schedule. He may say that he was misled, it can be proven in court that no one told him. But he is a minister, he is obliged to foresee everything and if he does not know, to consult. And the Minister of Regional Development. You know there are many options to explain this crisis. There is a possibility that it was emptied on purpose so that divers could take the money and not dive. There is a possibility that it was emptied because there is a hydroelectric power plant of the Water supply and sewerage system-Pernik so for production of electricity. There is the possibility of water being stolen by industrial enterprises. There are many options, but one thing is for sure - the control bodies responsible for this dam did not know - the Basin Directorate, where there is a deviation or were there water meters. Plus when we add 74% of losses in the water supply network of Pernik, imagine what we are talking about. Even if we had two dams like “Studena”, the water simply does not reach the consumers. And they made people stand on their toes there as well, to move to neighboring settlements so that they could bathe their children. I confronted them with water genocide.

Host: Could it have been prevented?

Asen Lichev: Absolutely. I tell you, I guarantee.

Host: Now let us move on to the present. Why are you going to make a spa center in Ovcha Kupel?

Asen Lichev: What do you think? When there is one of the most healing waters in Bulgaria and it is located between two mountains, in the center of the capital, on two highways - one East-West, the other North-South, there is an airport, there are cultural monuments, why not have the biggest spa, or the world's largest spa. Here is the project. It is on four floors, on the site of the old bathroom. But because the Recovery and resilience plan is much more urgent and time does not allow us to detail this project and to have accurate design estimates to include it in the plan, we have agreed, also with the assistance of Sofia Municipality, that we will seek other financial sources for it.

Host: And now one more thing on which I will quote Revizoro. He said it to Joro Lyubenov. The second great achievement, I quote, of yours, is the port of Kapitan Andreevo, on the Maritsa River that you plan to do. In general, you will build the Suez Canal on our territory. You close the two Bulgarian ports, but open a new one on the Maritsa.

Asen Lichev: If you allow me, my IQ, my upbringing, and my expertise do not allow me to listen and watch such a crescendo of outspoken bile. And that's why I won't comment. I don't even know, I haven't watched this interview.

Host: No, I read it. But tell me, will you make a port? Will we make a Suez Canal?

Asen Lichev: I will show the project. This project was presented in Edirne. This project is related to the protection from floods along the Maritsa River. I was a little confused as I said that the port will be on Kapitan Andreevo. No, it will be in Svilengrad.

Host: Good. But are you closing two other ports?

Asen Lichev: Two other?

Host: Bulgarian ports to open this one?

Asen Lichev: Who said such a thing. In the past Bulgaria fought wars to set foot on 2-3 seas, and now we can gain access to the Aegean Sea in a peaceful way. I just don't understand what this is all about.

Host: Will this happen?

Asen Lichev: This is another question.

Host: It's not a different one, it's the same.

Asen Lichev: This is another question.

Host: I can ask for a port on the Perlovska River.

Asen Lichev: This is another question, because this is part of an EU study to optimize EU transport schemes. And here a lot of funding is required. If Bulgaria has the ambition to do something significant, it could insist that it happens.

Host: But you cannot bring anything to a definite result, and that remains a dream, a perspective, a project.

Asen Lichev: Yes, indisputably. I am an Aquarius and generally a dreamer.

Host: Are they like that? I don't know much about zodiac signs.

Asen Lichev: Yes, but I am a dreamer in the interest of the people. I am not a dreamer in the interest of stealing.

Host: And will you create a Balkan Schengen? Will you close the border for waste?

Asen Lichev: This is a very debatable issue, because I never intended to close it for waste. This desire was provoked by the unilaterally stopped trucks at the border by the Turkish side, whereby we were left with 20 trucks of waste, which we had to return to their point of dispatch, at our expense. And then I decided to just look for legal opportunities to close the border for the import of waste that is used only for burning processes. No such legal opportunity was found. But let me tell your viewers that next week the government will adopt the national waste management plan, which also regulates this matter. And expect good news.

Host: How do they settle this matter? Where will the garbage be burned in our country? Do we have factories?

Asen Lichev: Why do you connect the two things?

Host: Because they say that there should be a waste incineration plant in Sofia, in Northern and Southern Bulgaria. We had a foreign investment of 1.2 billion which the government did not use.

Asen Lichev: You confuse the matters. We are talking about imported waste for incineration. And Bulgarian garbage is our concern. It will continue to be burnt. Six plants have a license in their complex permits to burn garbage. Three are the cement plants and three others. They work for our garbage. There are really no incinerators, but do you expect the caretaker government to build one in Northern and one in Southern Bulgaria in two months?

Host: Have we lost the investment?

Asen Lichev: It is not true at all. Our rubbish is ready and waiting to be burned.

Host: And where will it be burnt? If the cement plants stop to burn it...

Asen Lichev: I have no idea ... How will they stop? Why so? They can't stop. They profit from it, they are needed, how will they stop?

Host: I'm just asking.

Asen Lichev: But such plants are needed, that's what I'm saying, but don't expect me to solve everything in two months.

Host: Well, I’m not even asking you for the solution, but for the problem. Is there a problem with waste incineration in our country? This is how the question stands.

Asen Lichev: As far as each incineration emits additional emissions into the air, and as far as it is psychologically very difficult to explain to the society that it is useful to burn waste from other countries without creating conditions, including for incinerating ours, it is very difficult to give a logical explanation. In my opinion, the combustion process is always to some extent harmful to the air. But because we are members of the EU, the waste directive itself requires the best technologies to be applied, where it is said that the impact on the air is minimal. But I want this to remain a minimal impact only from Bulgarian waste, not imported.

Host: Well, you know that one of the huge scandals and arrests related to the Bobokovi was, according to the prosecutor's office, that there was a problem with the import of garbage, illegal import, incineration. Have you identified a problem as Minister of Environment and Water?

Asen Lichev: I have only heard that there is such a problem. Our authorities have not identified such a problem. But that doesn't mean there is no such problem.

Host: And that the prosecutor's office may have found such a problem, right?

Asen Lichev: How can I tell you? Today I received a request by the prosecutor's office to provide the documentation for such an installation, which is suspected of illegally burning garbage. So they are investigating and I don't want to speak on the matter.

Host: And what is the commitment by the Ministry to monitor these things?

Asen Lichev: How can we monitor if an installation does not have a burning permit and it burns at night or illegally? In this regard, I must say that in Bulgaria there is almost no control. It is by no coincidence that I suggested to Boyko Rashkov that it was high time we created an eco-police that could react immediately and go and catch them and handcuff them.

Host: This is the end of our conversation. However, can you briefly answer my question - is there a salvation from the dirty air in Bulgaria? According to Eurostat, we hold the first place.

Asen Lichev: This was also news that was presented very strangely. The news was presented in the present time, and in fact the data refers to 2019. Then we were in first place in terms of pollution with fine particulate matter. From then until today, there is a clear tendency for decrease. 14 municipalities already have their measurements within the norms. We have until the 14th to submit a position to the European Court, where we hope to minimize the sanction of 6153 Euro per day, or even have it lifted. I have hired the best consultants, one of whom is Mr Julian Popov, who everyone knows and he has a large lobby in the EC, to assist in the preparation of this position.

Host: I hope this happens, because on the one hand it is money, ours and taxpayers’. The question, however, is to stop breathing dirty air hopefully.

Asen Lichev: In 2010 the EC has put a finger in this wound.

Host: And it goes on. Thank you, Mr Lichev.


See the whole conversation in the video: