Dear Deputy Prime Minister, Ministers, participants,
I will be brief with my opening remarks. I will only ask 3 questions:
- First, what do we know?
- Second, what do we want? and
- Third, how to achieve what we want?
So, what do we know?
We know that Roma are losing money, that Bulgaria is losing money. Actually, a lot of money. According to 2010 World Bank estimates, in average, Roma citizens may be losing potential income of up to 5000 Leva a year, and the Bulgarian Government is losing about 700 million Leva a year**.
Why? Because the vast majority of Roma lack sufficient education. Only about 13 percent of working-age Roma completed secondary education. And low education leads to poor employment opportunities.
The potential gains coming from proper Roma employment are very high. Roma who complete secondary education can expect to earn 83 percent more, compared to those without secondary education. And each Lev invested in Roma education would bring back 7 Leva into the state budget***.
In short, there is a clear economic reason why Roma inclusion is crucial for Bulgaria – for the Roma, for all citizens.
Second, what do we want?
We want to see results from investments in Roma inclusion. We want to see Roma students with increased skills, increased employment opportunities, increased income.
All Roma want to see results, all citizens want to see results. We all want to see how inputs – namely money – translate into activities – like the conference today – and how these activities translate into outputs – like the National Roma Integration Strategy.
But do outputs – like the National Strategy – produce results by itself? We all know it. No.
An output like a strategy document does not automatically lead to results. Why? Because there is one major ingredient needed to translate outputs into results. And what is this magic ingredient? IT IS US. People. People need to change their BEHAVIORS. There are no results without changes in behaviors.
So, with money, we can buy outputs – like the strategy, but we cannot buy results. Results need to be created by each and everyone of us, through individual actions, through the way we change our behaviors. Why do I stress this point?
Because it leads me to my third question – how to achieve what we want?
If we agree that there is a strong economic argument for Roma inclusion, if we agree that we want to see visible and measurable results from investments in Roma inclusion, and if we agree that in order to achieve results, individuals need to change their behaviors, the final question is – how to achieve this?
Ladies and gentlemen, if we want to achieve results, behaviors need to change. This means that we all need to go beyond our current thinking, we all need to go beyond our current actions - as individuals and as institutions, as citizens and as politicians, as Roma and as non-Roma. We all are RESPONSIBLE for producing the results we want to see – for us and for our children.
In this sense, I wish all of us a responsible discussion today to produce the final output, the National Roma Integration Strategy, which provides the framework for RESULTS, RESULS we all want to see, RESULTS created by all of us through responsible individual and collective actions, RESULTS shaping Bulgaria’s future. Yes, we can!
* World Bank, Economic Costs of Roma Exclusion, April 2010, Joost de Laat and team
** The vast majority of working-age Roma lack sufficient education to successfully participate in the labor market. Given low employment and wage levels, working age Roma pay less taxes and social security contributions and are more likely to be recipients of social security payments. As a result, Bulgaria looses an estimated 370 million Euro in fiscal contributions as a result of lower tax receipts and higher welfare expenditures. These are lower bound estimates, based on official population data. If the 2011 EC data about share of Roma population in Bulgaria is used, the losses are twice as high.
*** The annual fiscal gains from bridging the employment gap are much higher than the total cost of investing in public education for all Roma children. If the Government would invest the fiscal gains from equal labor market opportunities into public education for each Roma child aged 3-17, it would be able to spend more than 7 times the amount currently spent on public education per average student in the country. In other words, the potential gains of inclusion far exceed the necessary investment costs, even if these are higher than current per pupil spending. Based on the data of 370.000 Roma in Bulgaria, the fiscal loss per Roma child is 7.74 times the public education spending per pupil (2006 data)