If you ask most Romanians what they think of Moldova, you’ll get the impression that they consider their smaller neighbor to be a beloved but backwards member of the family, the bucktoothed cousin who is awkward and unsophisticated but still loved and accepted because they’re kin.
The other day I was speaking to someone about some of the themes covered in Incompetence on Every Level and they told me about what was going on in Moldova. When I got home and verified it for myself, I was blown away.
Romania has wasted over nine million euros in creating an “e-government” website, with the modest aim of posting all government auctions (and bids for government services) online. Here is a screenshot of how that shitty website looks today:
The very first line that you see says (in ugly red) that “if you want to file tax forms and are having problems, refresh your memory cache and then reload the website”. Christ.
The site is also supposedly bilingual but when you click on the English all it will tell you is that if you want to do anything you have to use the Romanian-language version of the site.
Even the government bids which are online are almost impossible to find. If you speak Romanian, go ahead and try to find one. Set your timer and see if you can do it in less than 10 minutes, I dare you. And then when you do find one, you get a tiny blurb of text with almost no details and it’s nearly impossible to click on it and put in a bid (assuming you genuinely wanted to do so). It’s a freaking nightmare.
But this is the Republic of Moldova’s e-government website:
Now that is how you build a freaking website! It is trilingual, in Russian, Moldovan and English and all three languages work the same.
Bids for government services are easy to understand and find. According to the website, over 68% of all government services are auctioned via the website now.
You can also request documents via the website, including vital papers that all Romanian citizens are familiar with, such as school records, birth certificates and criminal records. Holy shit!
Here’s how you get a copy of your criminal record in Romania today: first you have to go to the city where you “officially” live. This may or may not be where you actually live due to bureaucratic bullshit (partially described in my piece Off the Grid). Then you go to the post office to buy a stamp. You can only buy this stamp at the post office and nowhere else. Then you go to the police station to one window in a building and buy another stamp. Then you take these two stamps and go to a different police building and fill out a form. And you better hope you don’t get there around lunchtime where they shut down for a shift change and kick everyone out of the building and make you wait outside in the cold and rain for 30 minutes.
Here’s how you get a copy of your criminal record in Moldova: go to the website, fill out a form, “sign” the form digitally using your phone to send an SMS, pay for the fee electronically and then go pick up the document at your convenience.
In Romania you can pay for a few government-related things online but you have to have a credit or bank card, something millions of people do not have. In Moldova, you can 1) use a credit or bank card 2) go to a post office and put cash in their Mpay system 3) go to almost any bank and put cash in MPay 4) use your mobile phone (if you have a contract) to pay or 5) use an electronic kiosk to put cash in MPay.
The MPay system can be done entirely via SMS so you don’t need a “smart” phone to use it, meaning that just about everyone has access to the system. Romania just got its first mobile payment system a week ago and when I went down to my local Vodafone office to ask them about it, nobody at the central office had any details and told me to “wait a bit” for it to get up and running.
In Romania you might just be able to pay your taxes online (only in certain cities). In Moldova, you can pay your taxes, get your criminal record, get your health records, get a copy of your birth or marriage certificate, register your livestock, file real estate papers (including apply for a building permit), register for university, pay for your health insurance, file for unemployment, apply for a fishing or hunting license, register a political party, register a trade union, find information about a vehicle’s history based solely on its license plate, get real estate information on any piece of property (including its valuation), file a petition to the government, file your employment contract with the government and order a license plate for your vehicle all entirely online.
Every time I go to Iasi I always make a habit of asking the Romanians that I meet if they’ve ever been to Chisinau (the capital of the Republic of Moldova), which is just across the border (about a two-hour drive) and the vast majority of them never bothered. Yet I’m starting to realize that Moldova has a number of surprises and is far more than a barren hilly country that’s only good at making wine.
Just thinking of the colossal amount of time that I personally have wasted dealing with bureaucracy here in Romania makes me want to cry, especially now that I can see how it could be done. And the more I watch Moldovan news, the more I realize just how much better informed citizens are in that country compared to the informational black hole going on in Romania.
The Moldovan channel Publika not only has a wider global perspective (thanks to some of its programming coming from CNN) but has top-notch journalists like (born and raised in Romania) Cristian Tabara. If you’ve got a spare hour and you speak Romanian, I highly recommend the latest broadcast of Vox Publika, a political dialogue show where they debated Moldova’s future, whether it should remain independent or unite with Romania and what its future relations with Russia should be like. Very informative.
Meanwhile Romanian news channels are still running bullshit like this:
Moldova reminds me more and more about what happened with telephony. In the 1950s, America was vastly ahead of everyone else, with almost every house in the country connected to the (wired) telephone network while over here in Romania (and Moldova) landlines were scarce and expensive. Yet fast forward to 2014 and countries like Romania (and Moldova) have far better wireless service and coverage than America does. Eastern Europe used to be behind but when the new technology came around, they seized on it and skipped far ahead.
Moldova is far more than just a backwards ex-Soviet state and it’s obvious that it is making progress in leaps and bounds, as their e-governance website and mobile pay and digital signature system clearly shows. Even on the diplomatic front, you can see Moldova is far ahead of the game.
Just a few days ago, the Russian Foreign Ministry blasted Traian Basescu (link in Russian, sorry) for his hotheaded anti-Russian remarks, particularly unhelpful when it comes to the sensitive situation in Transnistria.
But just a day later, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was in Chisinau talking to the Moldovan Foreign Minister, Natalia Gherman. Those talks went very well precisely because Ms. Gherman can speak Russian and so talk to Lavrov without an interpreter.
Basescu can speak pidgin English to his master Victoria Nuland but he can’t speak a word of Russian and Nuland can barely articulate herself in English, much less speak Romanian or Russian (or Ukrainian). That failure to communicate makes a huge difference.
Romania better watch out or in 20 years it’s going to be people in this country begging to join Moldova instead of the other way around :)