I often complain about a real lack of transparency in Romania but there is one notable exemption – the activities of the parliament are duly noted and rapidly updated on its website. Likewise, although there’s no American-style CSPAN with a live feed of the parliament floor, the media (and public) are allowed to witness the proceedings. Mind you, there are some shortcomings in the parliament’s activities, such as relying on pieces of paper being digitally scanned (and for some reason almost always scanned in crookedly) and thus hard to search or copy, and it’s always pissed me off that it’s still legal to hold secret votes (via the method of dropping balls in urns) but it’s still overall a good thing that the citizens of this country can see what their elected members are doing.
I’m not a citizen yet but I keep a sharp eye on these activities and what I saw yesterday simply took my breath away. Perhaps taking advantage of the fact that Ponta was in South Africa for the big sendoff for Nelson Mandela, the ruling USL coalition tried to slip in a number of bills and hope that the public wouldn’t notice.
First the parliament buried an amendment to a bill concerning mining (i.e. the notorious Rosia Montana case), which was somehow discovered. I myself witnessed a dozen or so people protesting about that here in Cluj and I know that there were other similar actions in Bucharest. The USL managed to later kill this amendment by telling its members not to be on the floor of the parliament during the vote, thus preventing the legally minimum quorum and thus effectively tabling the issue (for now).
Secondly, the parliament suddenly brought up an amnesty bill and was about to hold a vote on it when the furor concerning it made them rethink this approach and thus table it (once again – it’s been in a holding pattern since May of this year). This was an especially sneaky move because ordinarily all legislative matters are listed in the “ordin de zi” or “daily business” that journalists and members of the public can consult to know what their elected members of parliament are up to. Yesterday however the proposed “amnesty bill”, which mostly affects criminally convicted former members of parliament and other bigwigs, was not listed in the “ordin de zi” and then was brought up as an “emergency” measure and about to be voted on when it got noticed by the opposition (and all the media channels) and no vote was held on the issue (for now).
Speaking of “emergency” measures, last night President Basescu held a press conference (text in Romanian can be found here) and said that since the USL came to power in 2012, the parliament has passed 80 (normal) ordinances and 105 emergency ordinances. The difference between a normal ordinance (bill) and an “emergency” ordinance is technical and concerns a) whether or not a parliamentary debate on the floor concerning the measure is allowed and b) how many votes are necessary to pass the measure. Despite the fact that the USL holds a clear majority of parliament (70% of the seats), they continue to rely on “emergency” ordinances and are thus ramming legislation through by bypassing normal parliamentary procedures.
But the biggest surprise of yesterday was that the parliament introduced an amendment to an obscure bill (apparently hoping that no one would notice) which modified the “Cod Penal” or the criminal code statutes of Romania, changing the definition of a “functionar public” (government employee/civil servant) to exclude the president, senators and elected members of parliament (a detailed analysis of this in Romanian can be found here).
Say what? Yes, to avoid being subject to either the DNA (anti-corruption agency) or the ANI (which has jurisdiction over conflicts of interest), the parliament simply re-defined their jobs as being “o profesie liberala” which translates to mean a normal job or a regular commercial enterprise. No longer are they government employees but regular employees of a commercial enterprise, meaning of course they are no longer subject to rules on corruption, because how can a private commercial enterprise be corrupt? They can’t. If I own my own firm and I want to hire my cousin for a job, that can’t be “corruption” because it’s my own money and I can do with it whatever I want to. Corruption and all those other related crimes (such as nepotism and influence peddling) only refer to public money and government employees.
This “redefinition” of senators, members of parliament and the president as being employees in a commercial enterprise and no longer civil servants set off a firestorm of protest. Basescu in his press conference had some rather restrained comments (see below) but I saw the heads of both the ANI and DNA on the news later and they all had some withering criticism of this bizarre legislative measure.
Basescu on this “redefinition” of a public employee:
În sfârşit, vine şi în înalta sa înţelepciune, Camera Deputaţilor astăzi modifică şi Articolul 147 din Codul Penal, în care constată că preşedintele României, senatorii, deputaţii, precum şi persoanele care îşi desfăşoară activitatea în cadrul unei profesii liberale nu sunt funcţionari publici, nu pot fi asimilaţi funcţionarilor publici. Eu le mulţumesc că s-au gândit şi la mine, dar nu am nevoie de această prevedere şi cred că nu au nevoie nici domnii parlamentari.
Ca atare, voi trimite legea înapoi la Parlament, pentru că scoţând preşedintele, şi senatorii, şi deputaţii, şi pe cei care lucrează fără contracte de muncă, apropo primari, consilieri, da, scoţându-i din categoria funcţionarilor publici, practic, nu mai pot fi loviţi nici de situaţiile de incompatibilitate, nu mai pot fi anchetaţi de DNA şi se protejează domniile lor, tot prin modificări la Codul Penal, şi de emiterea unor hotărâri care, eventual, întâmplător li s-ar potrivit lor şi familiilor lor, în mod deosebit când vorbim de atribuire de contracte pe bani publici.
Oameni buni, această modificare înseamnă 10 ani de regres. A fost greu până când s-au pus pe picioare aceste instituţii – ANI şi DNA – pentru a lupta împotriva corupţiei la nivel înalt. Au început să funcţioneze. Efectele modificărilor introduse astăzi sunt dezastruoase din punct de vedere al credibilităţii României
Nu putem confunda Parlamentul României, Preşedinţia cu un butic din Gara de Nord şi să spunem că titularii acestor funcţii nu sunt funcţionari, dar beneficiază de maşină pentru că sunt înalţi demnitari ai statului, de şofer, de facilităţi de cazare, nu, dacă discutăm de parlamentari, de paşaport diplomatic, dar când vine vorba să răspundem în faţa legii, domnii parlamentari vor să fie consideraţi buticari, la conflictul de interese, la fel. Nu se poate. .
Here’s my quick and dirty translation:
And lastly, we come to their greatest deception. Today the parliament modified article 147 of the criminal statutes so that the law now states that the president of Romania, senators and members of parliament are no longer classified as being government employees but rather individuals engaged in a commercial enterprise. I thank them for including me [in this modification] but I don’t need to be included in this reclassification and I don’t believe members of the parliament need this either.
Thusly I will send this law back to the Parliament because removing the president, senators and members of parliament and those who work without a work contract, such as mayors and members of city councils, from the rules defining government workers means that they cannot be held liable in situations of incompatibility and they cannot be investigated by the DNA. This change in the definition in the criminal statutes means that their associates and family members will likewise be protected from any investigations into issues concerning the public’s money.
Good people, this modification [of the law] means 10 years of progress has been annulled. It was hard for the DNA and ANI to get up and running precisely because these agencies both investigate corruption at the highest levels. But they have started to work and be effective. Now this modification [of the law] introduced today will have disastrous results for Romania’s crediiblity.
We cannot confuse the Romanian parliament or the presidency with a shop operating in Gara de Nord [Bucharest’s main train station] and say that you’re not a government employee but yet you get the use of a car and driver because of your position, or get housing benefits. And members of parliament cannot be issued diplomatic passports but when it comes time to face the law say that they’re just a simple shopkeeper. This cannot be so.
Just in case anyone forgot, the DNA and ANI were both created specifically as a requirement for Romania’s joining the EU. It wasn’t something a group of good-hearted politicians in Romania came up with – it was a mandatory imposition by the EU. Furthermore, the EU has what’s called the MCV or the “Mechanism for Cooperation and Verification” (link to English version here but there’s also a Romanian version on the site) which theoretically was supposed to track Romania’s “progress” to becoming a democratic state.
As hard as it is to believe now, the MCV was originally conceived as a temporary thing, begun before Romania was a member of the EU, meant to keep an eye on things and conclude with a happy ending, verifying that the system of checks and balances was operating and that Romania had a free and fair democracy. In fact, two bloody years ago we were all supposed to be popping champagne as Romania joined the Schengen zone but that hasn’t happened nor is it likely to happen as long as shenanigans like this keep happening.
The ANI and DNA are weak enough as it is, with members of parliament able to effectively ignore most of the ANI’s rulings and the DNA is run by a bunch of sloppy second-hand prosecutors who are damn good at starting investigations but piss poor at actually getting any convictions, especially when over half of the convictions that they do get end in “suspended” sentences, which mean that the person in question is guilty but no punishment will ever be enacted. I’d have to crunch the numbers but my ballpark guess is that only about 5% of all the cases that the DNA opens result in a conviction, and that’s including suspended sentences.
With the secret votes, the bullshit referendums (two failed and very costly (50 million euros) attempts to recall Basescu and the refusal to honor the 2009 referendum to reduce the parliament to 300 total members), the slew of “emergency” ordinances, the vastly bloated and unnecessary military, the simply ludicrous amount of legal trickery involving not just Rosia Montana but all of the bullshit involving privatization of state enterprises as well as secret contracts (such as the original Bechtel contract to build a highway, which is still “missing” and “cannot be found” according to Dan Sova), the ongoing attempt to offer amnesty to already convicted barons and now this, the redefinition of members of parliament to escape any oversight by the ANI or DNA, I say it’s high time to scrap the Constitution and start over fresh with a new one.
Romania has already had a number of shitty Constitutions, including the loathsome 1866 one which banned Jews from being citizens, and I say it’s high time to throw the current one straight into the dustbin and write a new one. Is there any one left in this country who really feels like the one we have now is working? I highly doubt it.
And while we’re at it, let’s get rid of the ridiculous system by which cities and counties send 90% of their tax revenue to Bucharest and then have to wait (and curry favor) for the parliament to redistribute the money back. As it stands right now the parliament in Bucharest even decides the salaries of local mayors.
In the year 1864 the American president, Abraham Lincoln, traveled to a battlefield in Maryland and gave probably the most iconic speech of his professional life.
In dedication to the Romanian parliament, I have slightly modified it for their benefit:
It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom and that a commercial enterprise of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from the earth.
Rot in hell, you devils!