SOFIA -- Bulgarian prosecutors have officially charged the country’s now-resigned environment minister with deliberate mismanagement of water supplies in and around the western town of Pernik in a crisis that led to antigovernment protests.
Neno Dimov, who faces up to eight years in prison, resigned on January 10, a day after he was taken into custody following a round of questioning by investigators.
Prosecutors accuse Dimov of providing water supplies to industrial users even when he had been informed that the water in a dam -- the only source of drinking water to the city of 70,000 and surrounding area -- had seriously decreased.
"Some 97,000 people will not have normal access to drinking water in the next five months --- which they would have had if the minister had exercised his authority," Prosecutor Angel Kanev told reporters.
"This is the biggest damage," he said.
Dimov has denied any wrongdoing and has blamed the water crisis on dry weather and poor management of the local water facility.
Last month, prosecutor Krasimira Mincheva said that, with his inaction, Dimov "did not take sufficient care of property management,” which she said resulted in “damage to human health.”
Anger in Pernik, a town of more than 70,000 located less than 40 kilometers west of Sofia, has been growing since November 18, when municipal authorities implemented water restrictions due to lack of supply from the Studena Dam.
Initially, water was made available for 10 hours a day, but lately residents have had access to water for only seven hours a day.
The restrictions, applied to another town and six nearby villages, were scheduled to stay in effect no more than five months.
The rationing has led to protests and calls for the government to resign, amid allegations of mismanagement and malfeasance by local officials from the supply company and municipal administration.
The opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party said it would on January 20 file a no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Boyko Borrisov’s government over its environmental and water policies.
Since the government can secure a parliamentary majority with support of a small populist party, the motion is unlikely to pass.