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Saturday, July 5, 2008

Romania is my... country

Everybody is talking about Romania and how bad the corruption is. Everybody IN Romania already knows this. Nobody can be heard, if someone tries to speak, they're shut down. I sure hope the July report of the EU will strike hard, like a comment said.

Please, read along, and embrace this nightmare that is Romanian Government & Public and Justice system. Wherever you go, if you need something from the most minor thing (parking ticket canceling) to a serious problem (operation, hospitalization) or a financial one (loan), you have to bribe a cop, a doctor or some people in banks.

This is the country of all possibilities, where your average salary is 200-300 EUR and the cost of winter heating alone is 150EUR (if you don't really turn it on, just leave it at med-low). And the prices are going up. And the payroll... isn't. It would be better if not more and more private firms would pay minimum-wage to people for 8+ hour jobs, it would be better that the minimum-wage would be somewhere over 200-300 EUR, not below. And it would be better if when you get a month's pay, more than 30% would be tax and stuff like that. Sometimes a lot more. But hey, it's the country of all possibilities. It will still be like that 10 years from now, because everyone's too lazy and too corrupt "up there" to want to come down. They feast on the little guys. They get 1000 EUR salary per month, and they already have villas and starting firms. Oh well...

Read on, I'll post the comments from the site that published this article.

The European Union conceals Romania’s backsliding on corruption

HOW bad is corruption in Romania? Somebody well-placed to answer is Willem de Pauw, a Belgian prosecutor who is a veteran European Union adviser on the matter. Last November he wrote a report that concludes: “instead of progress in the fight against high-level corruption, Romania is regressing on all fronts…if the Romanian anti-corruption effort keeps evaporating at the present pace, in an estimated six months’ time Romania will be back where it was in 2003.”

This report has not been published (it is now available here). The European Commission’s report in February was a lot softer. “In its first year…Romania has continued to make efforts to remedy weaknesses that would otherwise prevent an effective application of EU laws, policies and programmes. However, in key areas such as the fight against high-level corruption, convincing results have not yet been demonstrated.”

That falls far short of admitting that Romania’s authorities are willfully failing to co-operate. Some of Mr de Pauw’s most striking examples did not appear in the official report either, or were buried in footnotes. Mr de Pauw confirms his authorship but refers inquiries about it to the commission. Officials say he was consulted on the issue. Their February report, they add, was a “factual update”, not an assessment of Romania’s progress. That will come in a fuller report later this month.

It would be encouraging if this included some of Mr de Pauw’s points. One hot example is the cases that courts have sent back to prosecutors since Romania’s constitutional court struck down an anti-sleaze law. Mr de Pauw’s report said that “basically all” high-level corruption trials had been rebuffed by courts, which it was “statistically impossible to attribute [to] the coincidental occurrence of procedural mistakes in individual cases. Other factors than legal-procedural considerations have clearly played a major role.” He added that “the Romanian judiciary and/or legal system appears…unable to function properly when it comes to applying the rule of law against high-level corruption. Indeed, more than five years after the start of Romania’s anti-corruption drive, the public is still waiting for one single case of high-level corruption to reach a verdict.”

Events also support Mr de Pauw’s warning that Romania could soon regress to the level of 2003. Take the case of Adrian Nastase, a former prime minister charged with several counts of corruption and bribery. He has now been exonerated by the parliamentary committee on legal affairs. A lobby group, the Initiative for a Clean Justice, complains that “we are witnessing the transformation of parliamentarians into judges and of the judicial committee into an extraordinary court.” A full parliamentary vote on the committee’s recommendation has been postponed until after the EU’s July report. But Mr Nastase and his supporters are already considering a presidential bid in 2009.

In retrospect, the EU relied too much on individual politicians to back Romania’s anti-corruption drive, notably Monica Macovei, a much-admired justice minister. She was fired soon after Romania joined the EU in January 2007. Membership made the political elites feel they were off the hook. Mr de Pauw offers a bleak verdict. “Many of the measures that were presented, before accession, to be instrumental in the fight against corruption, have been deliberately blunted by parliament or the government immediately after accession…all major pending trials concerning high-level corruption, started just before accession and only after many years of hesitation, have now been aborted and are, most probably, definitely abandoned for all practical purposes.” He also cites the weakening of the role of the National Integrity Agency, meant to limit politicians’ conflicts of interests and verify their assets, and also amendments to the penal code before parliament that will “fatally affect” the investigation of corruption.

All this, he says, shows “the intense resistance of practically the whole political class of Romania against the anti-corruption effort”. Mid-level Eurocrats, as well as some foreign diplomats in Bucharest, agree. The problem is that countries such as France pushed to get Romania into the EU early for their own reasons, whether financial or geopolitical. And the political pressure may now be to cover up, not expose, the problem. If the EU’s July report on Romania is as anodyne as the previous one, suspicions will only grow.

The comments are very good also:

Random Commentator wrote:
July 03, 2008 18:40

Romania has zero chance to develop as long as crony network trumps free competition.

The answer is probably to look at the details of post-communist legal system, firing corrupt top judges and implement some independent control of procedures.

However, any solution must be forced on Romania from outside, against protests of local networks of corrupt politicians, judges and common bandits. They will loudly complain at evil West trampling East European cultural traditions, or something.

YoDaddy wrote:
July 04, 2008 04:23

Truly, Romania shall solve its huge corruption problem only if solutions are enforced upon it from outside. High-level corruption is only growing stronger here, as years go by. The effects are down-pouring on the lower levels of public administration, so that I can safely say that Romania is, right now, a deeply corrupted country, where a lot of the public services are fueled by bribes.
That many years, that many cases, not one conviction, ever.

Even the current Romanian president, Traian Basescu, was previously involved in a trial regarding the naval fleet of Romania, that simply... vanished (this is not a joke) while he occupied the Minister of Transportation function. He ran for president and got the mandate. In the "Fleet" file, there were no convictions. The ships are still missing... Traian Basescu is the president of Romania...
I rest my case.

YoDaddy wrote:
July 04, 2008 04:26

PS: Hope the July report will strike hard.

mihai_t wrote:
July 04, 2008 04:27

@ Random Commentator

The problem is that the "outside" Western world is happy to do business with Romania no matter how high corruption is. Case in point, the recent construction boom happening all over the country (most of it fueled by foreign investors' money) couldn't have persisted without corrupt Mayor Halls officials "closing" their eyes as old, architecturally valuable houses are being demolished to bring up new residential complexes and shopping malls.

Agentia de Arbitraj wrote:
July 04, 2008 06:25

This country has no market economy, most SME's (all sme's have to be associated to former or actual employees of the interior and administration ministry or other government affiliated agencies or entities)are in financial trouble, and the EU funds will never be accessible to them as long as the state agencies employees in charge of administering the projects and disburse these fund require 40% commission (bribe) up front in order to process project requests. The corruption is rampant and obvious, being covered-up by the EU institutions and officials for reasons that lead to the suspicion of general fraud and bribery. I think that substantial bribes are being given to MEP's and EU political parties, via NGO's and various other so called "legal" means.

V.K. wrote:
July 04, 2008 08:50

what do you expect from politicians who name a park in bucharest after the former dictator of azerbaijan and father of the current one?

Vlad Coman wrote:
July 04, 2008 09:34

Corruption has always been a part of Romanian life, but it only really developed into what it is today during the communist era.

High-level corruption is the most visible, but not the only type of rampant corruption in this country. Anyone coming to Romania should learn the word "spaga" (bribe) - it simply defines how things work in everyday life.

Romanians perceive the following categories of people as being the most corrupt: politicians, ex-Securitate, police, doctors and teachers (yes, doctors and teachers). But at the end of the day, there are very few people who wouldn't try "spaga" as their way out of a problem. Whomever denies this has not lived here.

Back in 2004 when the current president won the elections, some people actually believed that real change would come about. Mr Basescu is famous for (figuratively) promising to "impale the high-profile corrupt" on stakes in Piata Victoriei - but that hasn't happened.

The only two people who tried to do something about corruption, Justice Minister Monica Macovei and DNA Chief Daniel Morar, have come under heavy fire from all sides of the political spectrum, and were ultimately prevented from doing their job. Politicians were terrified at the prospect of their fortunes being investigated, or their powers restricted - so it didn't matter what party they belonged to, they all kept voting against judicial reform in Romania. It was just unbelievable to see Macovei fired after accession, for "not complying with her party policy" i.e. not giving in to pressure. She was replaced with a young political puppet who, of all things, is now faced with corruption charges!

Meanwhile, there is no politician in Romania without a profitable business behind him. Simple people fall for the same old rhetoric while paying for an incompetent, inefficient and corrupt administration. And it is corruption that is driving the country's gifted young away from politics, administration and other critical factors for change.

It may sound dramatic, but that's how it is. Romania needs decisive action, but it doesn't look like it will come from within any time soon. There is simply no political figure that can inspire and drive change, no one that the people would respect and follow. These are bad times for out country.

Catalin Z wrote:
July 04, 2008 11:05

Those who participated first hand in the rapt of public assets in Romania never lost their grip on the political power, the source of corruption and of arbitrary diversion of wealth from public to private pockets. Even after 2004, the year when the SPD party of former communist president Iliescu went into opposition, the power never left the corrupt hands and their representatives in Parliament and Government. The governing National Liberal Party broke the anticorruption alliance it formed with the Democrat Party and, instead, allied itself with the representatives of the old corrupt SPD government. Today, there are three parties that form the governing majority in Romania, the National Liberal Party, Social Democrat Party and the Conservative Party. This alliance, never validated at the polls, is led by the cronies of high corrupt Romanian moguls, former members of Securitate and high rank officials of the former Communist Party, people who participated in the robbery of former state banks, robbery of former state assets through the so called privatization process, robbery of state budgets and, recently, robbery of EU funds which will surely continue in the years to come, should they keep their hold on power after the next elections. This alliance always opposed any judicial reforms, sacked those who promoted it and drafts a new penal legislation that transforms Romania into a true Camorra-like state, where high rank corruption will become immune from a legal system which, many say, does not even exist in Romania. All eyes are now focused on the reaction of the EU officials in their next report on the state of the Romanian judicial reforms, and whether it will finally sanction a corrupt state and a corrupt system of clientele that always changes its colors but never changes itself. It is, after all, the people, the "new Europeans" that suffer the most from corruption under the indulgent and sometimes blind eye of EC

Calul Balan wrote:
July 04, 2008 11:18

Having lived in Romania and run a business there for almost a decade, I sold up and left this year. The volume of corruption simply had become too great to withstand. At every level, people expected "favours" and bribes. Unless bribes are given, firms cannot obtain EU grants or business loans. Meanwhile, EU funds are disbursed according to bribes rather than merit, tilting an already warped playing field in favour of the corrupt. The system is loaded against honest behaviour: no wonder most people give up and embrace corruption. Unfortuately this corruption provides a "trickle up" system (as opposed to the "trickle down" that the EU no doubt hopes for), where ordinary Romanians' already low incomes seep into the hands of the corrupt elite.

Another aspect is the way that the elite manipulates "EU laws" in their interests. Look at tourism. Now every guesthouse in Romania requires an "EU standard" kitchen using stainless steel hotel equipment. A farmer who wants to offer bed & breakfast accommodation needs to invest 10,000 euro+ in kitchen equipment simply to be licenced. An estimated 45% of guesthouses are said to have closed or gone under the radar in 2007 alone. Who wins? Not the citizenry or the tourists! No, just the elite who own the overpriced hotels. It's another potent form of corruption: mis-using the law to force ordinary people out of business.

I do wonder whether anything can be done? When ordinary people bribe train conductors to let them travel ticketless, bribe the police to let them off speeding tickets, pilfer from their employers, and so on, I suspect that the average Romanian - somewhere in his or her psyche - feels that corruption is useful at a personal level.

Having seen what we EU taxpayers are funding - "grants" that are no more than handouts to the corrupt elite and its cronies - I say that the EU should turn off the funds immediately. Then we the donors can start to dictate terms for spending OUR money. If the elite won't agree, OK. If they don't want to adopt European norms of conduct then the EU can set its boundary at Hungary's eastern border. That step is likely to save Europe a great deal of time, effort and money.

DNA1 wrote:
July 04, 2008 13:26

EU forced Romania to join for their own interest. Same with USA and NATO. Now EU do successful business in Romania. They don't care about coruption, they care about their money. From time to time a second hand politician from EU brings the matter of corruption again and again...Who cares about corruption in Romania? When you see the shape EU & US are in today, would you care about Romania and its own internal problems? I believe not.

Original articles: zoso & economist.com

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