Romanian lesson for Ukrainian corrupted officials

Author : Georgiy Kuhaleyshvili

Source : 112 Ukraine

Romania’s key problem is not the ineffectiveness of anti-corruption struggle, but impediment created by the ruling coalition. Situation in Ukraine is even worse than in Romania
11:02, 26 January 2018

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The Telegraph

Nowadays, Romania suffers from tense social and political situation. Since last year, multi-thousand protest demonstrations have been held through the country. During the last demonstrations on January 21-22, at least 30-50 thousand people went to the streets of Bucharest demanding the resignation of the current government and holding early parliamentary elections. Romanian protesters are convinced that their country is ruled by thieves and corrupt officials who should leave. Such public opinion in Romanian society was provoked by three bills, amending the laws on the status of judges and prosecutors, the judicial organization and the functioning of the supreme council of the magistracy. There is an opinion that the new legislative initiatives of the Romanian parliamentarians will complicate the implementation of anti-corruption measures in the country. The protest actions in Bucharest against corruption remind the autumn rallies of the Ukraine’s opposition parties ("New Forces Movement", "Fatherland", "Civic position") in Kyiv, which demanded from the Ukrainian authorities to abolish the immunity of the deputies, create an anti-corruption court, and amend the election legislation. However, the scale of the protests in Romania is totally different. Despite numerous problems in the countries' relations, corruption is an issue that unites Ukraine and Romania.

Related: EU expects Ukraine to create Anti-Corruption Court according to standards

There is a stereotype that Romania is the most corrupt EU country. In 2007, Romania, together with Bulgaria, joined the EU because of the geopolitical interests of the United States, which persuaded Europe to expand its borders in order to prevent the revival of the Kremlin’s influence in the former socialist countries. Romanian economy was far from the level of the EU member states, not to mention the terms of fighting corruption. The starting point for the fight against corruption in Romania was 2002, when a special body, the National Anti-Corruption Directorate, was created. This is the Romanian analog of our National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU), founded in 2015. The effective prosecution of the corrupt officials began after Romania joined the EU in 2007. The European Union introduced a special monitoring mechanism to monitor the conscientiousness of Romanian law enforcement and judicial authorities in the sphere of anti-corruption activity and to suppress evasion from the rules.

After 10 years of membership in the EU, Romania still managed to achieve some success in the area of anti-corruption activities. Since 2006, more than 90 Romanian ex-ministers, senators, and deputies have been prosecuted for corruption. Under the wave of anti-corruption persecution, even small officials got caught and the business that was smeared in shadow schemes. In 2013, cases of corruption were investigated for 1,000 officials, including 68 high-ranking ministers and legislators. Years 2014-2016 was the most successful period in Romania’s fight against corruption. It was associated with Laura Kovesi, When she was heading the National Anti-Corruption Directorate, the body was investigating cases against 1,17 thousand people and 34 companies. Because of their corrupt activities, Romania's economy suffered a loss of $ 1 billion. In 2015, the Romanian Supreme Court opened a criminal case against former Prime Minister Victor Ponta (Social Democratic Party). Ponta was accused of money laundering and tax evasion. Now another 2,15 thousand similar cases are under investigation.



Laura Kovesi

Even the offspring of local oligarchs and top leadership, who smeared in corruption, did not succeed in escaping legal prosecution. In 2016, businessman Alexander Adamescu, son of the Romanian oligarch Dan Adamescu, was sentenced to prison in 2016 for bribing judges to rule favorably in insolvency lawsuits involving several of his companies. In 2017, the journalist Dana Andronika, ex-Minister of Tourism Yelena Udrya and Ioana Basescu, the daughter of former Romanian President Traian Basescu, who were accused of fraud, bribery and corruption fraud during the election campaign financing in 2009, appeared in the dock.

The National Anti-Corruption Directorate is fighting corruption in the medical field. In 2016 a large number of Romanian oncologists were accused of taking bribes from a pharmaceutical company for writing out their medications to their patients. In March 2012, this company, whose name is not disclosed, paid vacation for 77 doctors and their families in India for 520 thousand euros. The doctors went on vacations under the pretext of participation in a congress on breast cancer in Bangalore. In Ukraine's state hospitals, especially those in the front-line cities, drug distributors bribe doctors. Often some Ukrainian doctors prescribe to patients more expensive (and not always essential medicines and treatment) for material rewards, gifts or vouchers. Such pharmaceutical "marketing" is a common thing in Ukraine.

Related: US Embassy is not omnipotent: How Kyiv reacts to Western disontent with Anti-Corruption Court

According to Transparency International, from 2007 to 2016, Romania rose from 69th to 57th place (out of 175 positions) in the susceptibility to corruption ranking. According to the chairman of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker monitoring of anti-corruption activities in Romania will continue until 2019.

The problem of Romania is not that it ineffectively struggles against corruption, but that it is impeded by the ruling coalition of the Social Democratic Party and the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats. In December 2016, they won the parliamentary elections due to low activity of the electorate of the opposition parties, including the center-right "National Liberal Party". The Social Democrats promised to raise salaries, manipulated populist slogans, to which the uncritically thinking layers of Romanian society adhered. After coming to power, the Romanian Social-Democrats created some loopholes in anti-corruption legislation for those officials who violated the law.



Liviu Dragnea

First, they made changes to the Romanian criminal code in February 2017 to release corrupt officials from prisons. The government decided not to initiate criminal proceedings against corrupt officials who committed crimes amounting to less than 43 thousand euros. Under the pressure of the society, which organized thousands of meetings, the Social Democrats still canceled the amnesty of corrupt officials. However, they managed to save one of their authoritative companions from justice. In 2017, the Supreme Court of Romania closed the case against the Social Democrat Victor Ponta. Social Democrats offered to impose fines of 200 thousand euros for corrupt officials, instead of their removal from the office. In fact, they decided to legalize a token for breaking the law. The December amendments to the legislation, anticipated by the Romanians protesters, give the government more powers over prosecutors and minimize the independence of the magistrates. A special unit of law enforcement will be created to control the magistrates.

Related: Anti-corruption court is among conditions of EU-Ukraine visa-free regime, - EU delegation

Some politicians, who are in power, are interested in the reduction of the effectiveness of anti-corruption activities in Romania. The acting head of the lower chamber of deputies of the Romanian parliament and the leader of the Social Democratic Party is Liviu Dragnea, a well-known person among Romanian law enforcers. In 2012-15, Dragnea worked as Minister of Management and Regional Development. He served two years in jail for participating in the falsification of the election results in 2012. Last November, he was summoned for questioning by the National Anti-Corruption Directorate. Now he is under investigation for public funds misuse. Dragnea’s bank accounts (30 million euros) were frozen. To avoid persecution by law enforcement agencies, Dragnea and his associates are trying to use the parliamentary majority in order to create roadblocks for the Romanian fighters against corruption.

Just like in Ukraine, Romanian opposition parties are gaining the image of defenders of the common people, using the problem of fighting corruption. The clumsy actions of the "Social Democratic Party" play into the hands of the oppositional "National Liberal Party". President of Romania Klaus Johannis, who once headed the "National Liberal Party", supports the idea of fighting corruption and refuses to sign scandalous bills of the Social Democrats. Recently, the president appointed Viorica Dăncilă, European deputy, who nominated the Social Democratic Party as the prime minister, giving Dragnea’s supporters a chance for rehabilitation. If the Social Democrats continue taking the stand, then the opposition, with the support of Johannis and the protesters, might achieve early parliamentary elections, which would help liberals increase their presence in the Romanian parliament.

Related: Ukraine, Romania discuss controversial education law

However, the positions of the Social Democrats are not as weak as they might seem. They have their own cohesive electorate. They will rely on the administrative resource. Dragnea has fulfilled some of his election promises. The government has raised a monthly minimum wage to state employees from 321 to 453 euros. Also, the Social Democrats cut taxes. Until recently, wages in Romania were one of the lowest in Europe. Also, under the Social Democrats, there were positive trends in the Romanian economy. In the third quarter of 2017, economic growth in Romania was 8.8%. If it comes to early parliamentary elections, the "National Liberal Party" would face a difficult struggle for power. Many Romanian officials and ordinary citizens are accustomed to bribes and making money using shadow schemes. Anticorruption activity simply hinders them.

Anticorruption rallies in Romania found an echo in Ukraine, where corruption continues to be an urgent problem. Ukrainian users of social networks understand it. Some of them stressed the ineffectiveness of the fight against corruption in Ukraine. According to the December poll of the Razumkov Center, 80% of Ukrainians consider the fight against corruption unsuccessful. Despite the existence of NABU, the majority (46%) of respondents does not believe that any of the existing instances effectively combat corruption. Earlier, Prime Minister of Ukraine Groysman argued that corrupted areas where tend to be reduced in Ukraine.

Related: Ex-CEO of Ukrspyrt company detained in Romania

At least two days after the anti-corruption protests in Bucharest, one of the most respected lawyers in Ukraine, former US Vice President, Democrat Joseph Biden, said that corruption continues to be the biggest problem of our country. He recommended the US presidential administration to closely monitor what Ukrainians say and what they hide in order to check how Ukraine keeps its promises. Biden stressed that the Ukrainian government takes a step back in anti-corruption activities and fails to create an anti-corruption court, contrary to the previous promises. Even the American Democrats, actively supported by President Poroshenko during the presidential campaign of 2016, have serious doubts about the effectiveness of the fight against corruption in Ukraine.

Related: Who needs more to fight Ukraine's corruption - Biden or Ukrainians?



Protests in Romania

Speaking about the struggle against corruption, the situation in Ukraine is even worse than in Romania. If we rely on the ratings of Transparency International, we have fallen in terms of susceptibility to corruption from 118th place in 2007 to 131st  in 2016 (unlike Romania). In terms of corruption, our country is on the same level as in Russia, Kyrgyzstan, and Guatemala. Romanian fighters with corruption have dealt with more cases in 2014-16 than Ukraine’s NABU in 2015-16. During the first year of work, only for 41 out of 256 cases, a pre-trial investigation was completed. Only 121 persons were suspected of corruption. In the first half of 2017, out of 78 cases of pre-trial investigation, which NABU sent to court, only 16 verdicts became legal. The losses from crimes related to corruption amounted to UAH 82.5 billion (2.3 billion euros) in 2016, 87.1 billion UAH (2.5 billion euros) in the first half of 2017.

According to the Transparency International study, in 2015 only 19% of corrupt officials, who were tried for extortion or bribery, were put behind bars. In 2014-15, the total amount of bribes in Ukraine increased from 107 thousand USD to 680 thousand USD. Instead of imprisonment, Ukrainian judges have sentenced the defendants to probation. According to the research of the Razumkov Center, 76.6% of Ukrainians feel completely unprotected from extortion of money by officials. In provincial cities of Ukraine, local government bodies are infected with corruption, doctors sell different services in hospitals. Even in the ranks of the police, which is often perceived as a reforms display case, conditions for receiving illegal remuneration are created. There were cases when the law-enforcers changed measures of restraint, seized property and documents with the purpose of their return for a reward.

Related: Ex-CEO of Ukrspyrt company detained in Romania

The United States and the EU are interested in Ukraine's progress in fighting corruption. However, such results are not visible yet, which causes frustration of the West. For some state workers who receive a minimum wage, corruption is a source of survival. The level of wages in Ukraine is even lower than in Romania. The minimum wage is 3 723 UAH (105 euros). Taking into consideration the current taxes and tariffs for utilities, it is extremely difficult to survive on this money. Anticorruption protests in Romania set a precedent for strengthening socio-political ferment in Ukraine and growing dissatisfaction with the current authorities in the face of complex socio-economic realities and high levels of corruption.

All opinions published on 112.International website reflect the views of the author. 112.International editors may not agree with the opinion of the author.

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