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The Nation wants The Corrupt!

Cătălin BARBU

Paradoxically enough, the most hesitating Government since 1990 may take credit for the most notable change so far: turning corruption from a fuzzy intellectual concept into a concrete, tangible entity.



With good reason Monica Macovei is seen today, primarily in Brussels, the symbol of Justice. Unfortunately, she has less support at home. The Premier, who should stand by her side, is forced to cope, as leader of a ruling coalition, with attacks coming from all sides. From the President, with whom in December 2004 he shared the Champaign bottle on a stage filled with orange flags. From a Democratic Party which acts, while in Power, as if it were in the Opposition, criticising the Government's decisions two seconds after the Cabinet meeting. From a television-party which violates all common-sense rules on a daily basis, for the blunders of the Economy Ministry can hardly be seen as benign oversights of a Minister too young for such responsibilities. And not least, from UDMR leaders' farfetched demands, the only ones however to display the civilised behaviour expected from coalition partners.

For the first time, the corrupt see their names made public and are summoned to the Prosecutor's Office. Obviously, this anti-corruption race may have its collateral victims, but it is the duty of Justice to establish who is guilty of what.

Under these circumstances, the only one who actually does something for the EU integration is under cross-fire.

 

What the Government wants

 

When not sabotaged from within by some airbrained minister like Sereș or Gheorghe Dobre, the Government seems to be doing its job properly. It managed to table to Parliament, in due time, all the necessary bills and it has committed or will commit governmental responsibility on a number of legislative packages.

It has closed all negotiation chapters, in spite of the disastrous legacy of the Adrian Năstase Cabinet, particularly in the Justice sector.

The new regulations introduced by Monica Macovei on wealth statements brought to light the unjustified fortunes of some, and triggered criminal investigations into "big sharks" such as Adrian Năstase or Dan Ioan Popescu. The Liberal Party found no shelter from this Justice wave, with Dinu Patriciu making the headlines and getting the Premier involved as well, as the latter's faux pas made him look like a schoolboy caught cheating. There is nonetheless a substantial difference of attitude, and Tariceanu's error is in fact his choice of means. After all, if instead of the phone he would have used the mail or fax, no one would have had any comments. But from here to turning the PM into a public enemy, there's a long way, to my mind, and one which beclouds Tăriceanu's honest and concrete efforts to make a heterogeneous team work, in spite of members' divergent interests. Accession is his chance, but before that he needs to clean his own back yard. If (repeated) errors such as the Economy Minister's go on unsanctioned, he shouldn't be surprised if the public criticizes him.

Instead of being backed, the Government is attacked from all sides, and instead of doing its job it is forced to answer accusations or to waste precious time in pointless talks on trivial topics.

 

What MPs want

 

Debates in Parliament over the DNA Ordinance unfortunately proved the weaknesses of the Coalition. Here, the Government - and ultimately the Premier - was betrayed time and again by Coalition representatives. And worth noting is that authors of almost every blunder in the Senate include Norica Nicolai and Radu Câmpeanu or Teo Meleșcanu. According to the latest CURS poll, Parliament has reached record-high distrust rates: 82% of the population thinks poorly of the "ultimate representative body of the Romanian people." The amazing thing is that the disastrous condition this key institution of democracy was brought into doesn't disquiet anyone. Not even the culprits: political parties.

On the contrary: PSD struggles to protect its leader, as the PSD Chamber group turned down the Justice Minister's request to search Adrian Năstase's houses. As many as 87 of the 111 group members voted against Monica Macovei's request, two in favour, one ballot annulled, the others absent. Social-Democratic Deputies organised a public meeting in which all speakers used their rhetoric skills to prove that the Chamber Speaker was right.

Adrian Năstase's hiding behind his public office makes it all the more vulnerable and suspicious to the public. If he's not guilty, why would he act as if he has something to hide? The Adrian-Năstase-guardian-of-the-Constitution scenario would have been credible, had it not come from the one who ordered the apprehension, in the street, of a guy who had posted information on his wealth on the Internet. By acting as he does, Adrian Năstase placed himself and Parliament in an utterly humiliating position.

But at the moment MPs' chief concern is with their own pension benefits. Which proves that for them Parliament is just "a job," the place where you pick up your wages, sign the attendance sheet, skip meetings when possible, take a nap every now and then, vote a pension increase, a dole, a "redundancy" compensation scheme. And of course, you veto as strongly as you can a provision allowing some bloody prosecutor to touch your "nest eggs." And when things get tough, you run straight to Cotroceni to ask the President to save the day. The blocking of the DNA Ordinance allowed the President to "amend" the act, to the result that the DNA chief prosecutor is left at the hands of Botoș, the President's hireling, the one who jointly with Ioan Amariei faithfully served the PSD cause, making sure than no one bothers them for four years. It's hard to tell what will happen to DNA in the near future, and whether it will be able to complete the anti-corruption fight it had started with such determination.

 

What the President wants

 

One of the most incomprehensible developments after the DNA Ordinance rejection hysteria is that parties were invited to Cotroceni for "negotiations." The question is, what the hell was there to negotiate? The answer came shortly. Morar's subordination to Ilie Botoș, much to PSD's relief.

Considering the foreign reactions, there was one option only: to send the Ordinance back to Parliament and have Senators "whipped" into endorsing it. Instead, Traian Băsescu "negociates." This is not the first time Traian Băsescu unexpectedly steps back, after having set fire to the political class himself. The same happened with the ousting of the Năstase/Văcăroiu couple, with the appointment of public radio and TV Boards, with the early elections. Such truce agreements of the President confirm that he made peace with the system.

And not with any system, but with the secret services themselves. It's sad to hear the President siding with the intelligence services, claiming that only 20% of them are former political police workers (although the same figure had been mentioned by Virgil Măgureanu 10 years ago; with at least part of them likely to have retired since then, the figure is obviously inaccurate). It is sad to hear the President of a NATO state say that the opening of files built by Ceaușescu's secret police ("Securitate") may affect the national security, 16 years since the dictator's death, and when Romania is a NATO member and would-be EU Member State.

The national security strategy, the bills bearing the Romanian Intelligence Service hallmark, the CNSAS issue. Instances of the President's publicly promoting secret services' agenda pile up. It's sad that a President who denounces the "wicked system" could only see its clean spot in the services.

Secret services are also protected by the President's speaker, the Democratic Party, which strongly opposed the opening of Securitate file access. And the legislative proposals made by the President blatantly infringe upon citizen rights and freedoms and reinforce accusations that a police-State is being established. Intelligence officers will be entitled to enter any home and use any vehicle or telephone, to "remove imminent threats to national security," reads the bill on the intelligence officer status. They will not need a Court mandate to enter homes or use other people's cars and phones, but, if the exercise of fundamental freedoms is hindered, legal provisions shall apply.

Through such provisions the President in fact undermines the fight against corruption, thus substantiating claims made by those under investigation that this is all about settling political accounts rather than justice. Moreover, it may lead to disregard for the democratic criterion.

 

The DNA affair

 

In the DNA case, there is an interesting blending of two distinct things. On the one hand we have an institution which should be able to probe into MPs as well, as the European Union also requests. Things are quite clear here and it is compulsory for investigations to be able to include MPs, too. Since MPs are so thick-skinned as not to resign from Parliament in order to be equal to any citizen before the Law, as their more honourable colleagues in other countries do, such an institution is necessary. This would save us from awkward scenes such as Adrian Năstase's position lately. Both him and PSD would have only stand to gain if he had appeared before Justice and prosecutors every time, as Traian Băsescu did and as Dinu Patriciu does now. If accusations are proved false, there is always the option of suing the State and even of winning - in Romania or at ECHR.

The actual problem, in institutional terms, is with the truly diabolical legislation endorsed by PSD with (or maybe without) the substantial contribution of incumbent Power MPs. PNA has been from the very beginning an unconstitutional institution, and in order to solve the problem and carry on the fight against corruption Monica Macovei came up with this compromise solution, which received European blessing. This explains the firm reactions of the Europeans and of the US.

PSD is currently in a very delicate position at an European level, and will be checked by a "fact-finding" mission of the Socialist International. After they were conned by Nastase, Geoană will find it hard to pull the wool over the Europeans' eyes.

Not only PSD has a problem in this respect, but also PM Tăriceanu, who was reprimanded by European Liberals. There is no one to slap the Democrats over their wrists, as they are not affiliated to a European structure and the one they plan to join is about to split.

A second aspect refers to possible abuses or errors made by anti-corruption prosecutors. If such errors proven, the culprits will pay and Justice will have its say. Especially since a genuine Court independence has been noticeable lately, with magistrates no longer as eager to obey political commands as they used to be. It is probably not a coincidence that the President criticised judges, but praised Botos' Stalinist-like prosecutors, who rehashed the midnight arrest practice ...

 

The Nations Wants Corrupt Heads Rolling

 

The incumbent Power was elected to eliminate corruption, not its political and economic opponents. The fight against corruption must be fought by legal means and in compliance with procedures and human rights. I don't think the EU or anyone else agrees with the law, constitution or human rights being violated. For the time being, the anti-corruption campaign makes for a daily media show, which is evidently pleasing a public thirsty for blood, for whom Vlad the Impaler still is a reference for best governance practices.

But the acid test will be in the Court room, where Justice must have its say. That is, if we get there, given that prosecutors are champions in procedural flaws which allow defendants to walk free with only a stained image.

Romania needs to calmly and rationally carry on its Justice reform, without planning specific results, e.g. a precise number of heads that must roll, although this is what the nation wants. That's not the right way. The Justice reform must go on, avoiding political traps.

"The big sharks" are not a solution. In order to reform the Justice system, facts must be taken for what they are, solid cases must be built, investigations must be seen through, and on this basis criminal proceedings must be launched, without setting a corruption "production quota". Standard EU legal procedures must be followed, without setting specific targets, as this would mean political interference and would come against criminal law procedures.

From all the ado, one question remains. In PSD, corruption suspicions are pouring: Năstase, DIP, Mitrea, Mazăre et comp. In the Conservative Party, Șereș is "the usual corrupt," along with George Copos and "master of puppets" Dan Voiculescu. In PNL, there is Patriciu. In UDMR there is a Verestoy Attila, for instance. In PD, in exchange, all quiet. Not one corrupt, not even a tiny little one ... Is the presidential party really as pure as a lily?

 

 

 

by Cristian Bărbulescu

Publicat în : English  de la numărul 35

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