Last night I had the misfortune of reading this poorly written and edited piece in Adevarul, an article that includes misspellings and is mostly just a rehash of a government report plus a couple of long quotes from two people in Cluj.
The “meat” of the piece however is that a handful of political cronies from the Emil Boc (national) government received plum assignments at state agencies and got paid enormous salaries (higher even than the mayor of Bucharest!) despite having literally zero qualifications.
The findings came to light because the agency where they were employed, ROMATSA, the Romanian civil aviation authority (equivalent to America’s FAA), was in the spotlight back in January during the Frozen Tears debacle wherein two people froze to death after their plane crashed because literally no one in the government was competent enough to find the wreckage.
The fact that Ponta’s investigation into ROMATSA turned up a couple of Boc cronies getting big cheese from the state is unsurprising (Ponta and Boc are from opposing political camps) as is, sadly, the fact that such high levels of nepotism and incompetence are still commonplace in Romania in 2014. Frankly some days I marvel at the fact that my home electricity and water connections operate as smoothly as they do.
What drew my attention to this article, however, was the long quote from Vasile Dancu (disclaimer: he was at my book launch in 2012) about just how things really operate in the government (my translation):
The political parties have a weakness, which is that they don’t have a recruiting strategy like private companies do. Political parties are almost entirely formed from families, from friends, from in-laws, cousins, uncles and other family connections.
Another way to look at this is that parties have no plan in place for how a member of the party can rise within the ranks to achieve the rank of minister, for example.
The way that parties should decide who gets put into a post should be based on seniority, professional training, education and their support from the public, as expressed at the polls. Instead it’s quite disheartening to continually see ministries being given to people who have zero experience or knowledge in the respective field.
Europe is full of political “schools” where party members are tested and evaluated. They take strategic management classes and learn how to communicate with the public. But here in Romania, loyalty is the only criteria to promotion.
He then goes on to describe how in Nastase’s government (Dancu served under Nastase) the PM came up with a “brilliant” strategy: somehow they got 10,000 names of Romanian students who had graduated from universities in foreign countries. The plan was to lure these people back to Romania by hiring them for government jobs. If the regular salaries were too low, the Romanian government had a special fund set up to make up the difference so as to make the pay equivalent to what they could earn elsewhere.
Sounds great, right? Romania’s best and brightest, coming back to their homeland, earning decent money as they put their minds to use to improve the country. Here’s how it actually went down though (again, my translation):
To my great disappointment, almost nobody was interested in hiring these specialists [Romanians educated abroad] and the whole thing was a complete failure.
What’s weird though is that private companies showed no interest in hiring these people either. I put the blame on a lack of maturity on the part of both political parties and Romanian society in general,” said Dancu.
Dancu also calls for a professional civil service, which shocked me as I naively assumed that it already existed on some level in Romania.
What am I talking about? Back in the beginning of American history, the government was run quite similarly to how things currently exist in Romania. A president would be elected to office and then he would give away plum government jobs to all of his thousands of friends, family and supporters, called the “spoils system”. The great Andrew Jackson, speaking in 1830:
There are, perhaps, few men who can for any great length of time enjoy office and power without being more or less under the influence of feelings unfavorable to the faithful discharge of their public duties.
Office is considered a species of property, and government rather as a means of promoting individual interests than as an instrument created solely for the service of the people.
Sound familiar? You could apply that exact quote to Romania in 2014 and be right on the money.
It’s one thing to give a cabinet minister position to a political ally (as still happens in the USA) but quite another when you’re giving important civil aviation posts away to your former driver (as what happens in Romania) because then you’ve got clueless idiots in jobs that actually require some expertise and stability.
The solution in America was the civil service – every government post up to a certain level would be staffed by a person based solely on their merit and expertise. That way the engineers in charge of traffic safety and the people monitoring civilian aircraft and the folks who ensure the purity of medicines and foods are professionals who actually know what they’re doing, not political cronies.
Here in Romania, nothing of the sort exists. Everyone from to your local building inspector to the agents “guarding” the country’s borders to the people who ensure restaurants comply with health and safety regulations can, and often are, political cronies who are given the job solely because of who their cousin or uncle or wife is related to. They can be complete retards and be utterly incapable of understanding longitude and latitude coordinates and still make more money than you ever will.
If you’ve got “juice” in this country, your entire family can profit handsomely and there’s not a goddamn thing the ordinary citizen can do about it except vote in some other clan of corrupt bastards.
The only saving grace in all of this is that Romania is a member of the EU, which means that most of the economy is plugged into a wider network of trade and transportation. A German or British customer down the line will scream bloody murder if they consume substandard medication or eat horsemeat coming from Romania so there’s a limit on just how much shit you can get away with here.
The government is a joke, which is why the Bunicuta de Aur can screech on as much as she wants to about people needing to pay their taxes and be good little citizens who comply with every counterintuitive, bullshit regulation so that our wise elders in Bucharest can then grace us with their capable and munificent governance.
Romania is just a lesser version of Zimbabwe, a country where every government post, no matter how small, goes to cronies and family members.
Robert Mugabe would feel quite at home in today’s Romania, which isn’t such a surprising thing considering he was a long-time friend of this country’s biggest crony of them all, Nicolae Ceausescu.