From the president’s brother having ties to long-time criminals, to scores of customs officials living far beyond their means with impunity, corruption is apparent at every level of Romanian society. Recent crackdowns are widely perceived as little more than ‘show operations’ designed to appease an EU harboring misgivings about having admitted Romania in the first place.
By Anca Paduraru for ISN Insights
EU uncertainties are running so high that France recently proposed bringing “the fight against corruption and organized crime” onto the roster of criteria used in assessing Romania’s readiness to become part of the Schengen Area. France’s move would be in addition to the separate Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) that the EU put in place in 2006. The CVM was intended to encourage Romania to combat corruption through the revamping of its judicial system. Though the February 2011 CVM interim report noted positive developments, critics inside and outside of the country are skeptical about the true merits of the monitoring system, and the likelihood that it will bring about actual change.
The CVM aims to help Romania’s judiciary achieve “celerity, quality and consistency” in it rulings. Its detractors, however, say the EU-devised mechanism fails to properly identify where the actual problems lie.
Romania’s Supreme Court Justice Mona Pivniceru notes in an interview with ISN Insights that the “main problems judges are faced with are the lack of consistent jurisprudence, and an ever increasing workload. Both problems make for the poor performance of the judiciary, but the CVM does not point to the real culprits: the legislative and the executive.”
Pointing fingers, avoiding blame
The legislative branch has delayed adopting a law unifying existing jurisprudence, and the executive branch is currently in a regulatory frenzy that circumvents the parliament and raises the workload of cases for judges. As a glaring example, the implementation last year of one government ordinance alone resulted in a deluge of new cases that flooded the courts and brought rulings on pending cases virtually to a halt.
Supreme Court Chief Justice Horatius Dumbrava said that he did “not understand why the law on unifying jurisprudence was not adopted by the Parliament,” with the implicit suggestion that problems were being externally generated by politicians.
“Not entirely so,” Valeriu Stoica, former Minister of Justice and prominent member of the ruling Liberal Democrat Party, countered in an interview with ISN Insights. Stoica puts responsibility for the increasing workload squarely on the shoulders of the people working in the judicial system, more specifically on its regulatory body, the Supreme Council of Magistrates (CSM): “It is impossible for someone outside the judiciary to deal with judges guilty of incompetence, corruption, breaching the law and poor judgment. It is up to the CSM to raise the standards for selecting highly qualified judges; it is up to the CSM to prop up its mechanisms for supervising the judges, and it is up to the judges to learn more about the economic and social systems, so as to apply the law more competently.”
President Traian Basescu – facing public scrutiny over his brother’s connections to a character whom prosecutors investigated for a list of crimes, including attempted murder, blackmail and money laundering – recently mirrored that view when addressing prosecutors. Basescu said that moral values in Romania were being turned on their head because the prosecutors and judges “let it happen”. Basescu ended his speech by wondering why police and prosecutors do not act, when certain people are obviously living beyond their means and repeatedly breaching the law with impunity.
Justice Pivniceru wondered in her interview with ISN Insights why anti-corruption prosecutors “moved to indict scores of customs officials only after being prompted by Basescu’s public stance on the matter of their blatant corruption”. She continued that “Something is not right. The anti-corruption prosecutors should have been making regular arrests since the department was set up years ago, not waiting to be pushed into action from the highest political ground.”
Greasing the wheels of justice
Mircea Coşea, former MEP and Professor of Economics at the Academy of Economic Studies in Bucharest, offered an explanation to Q Magazine: “Romania has two budgets: one is public, and in dire straits; the other is private, but alive and well”. The private, robust budget that Coşea refers to is the organized way in which public servants collect bribes and then redistribute them according to a hierarchy. “The list of documents Romanians need to pay public officials for is endless: driving licenses, university diplomas, medical certificates, industrial production permits, and so on”.
In spite of all this, Deputy Chief Justice Aida Popa points to the progress prosecutors have made in constructing cases strong enough to merit indictments: Since last year, they have successfully brought to court around 520,000 of the 1.5 million indictments they filed.
This progress does not, however, include the case of Tudor Dordea that sat waiting in the corridors of the Bucharest Tribunal. He filed a law suit in January 2010 to evict the tenants from his property, and had an initial court date scheduled for November 2010. While waiting for the case to advance, the tenants “get a long no-expenses paid lease from the court; I get nothing,” says Dordea, as he clutches the thick file of documents in his hands.
“That is one other problem with the CVM,” Justice Pivniceru admitted. “It focuses on criminal law, on issues of corruption, when these only constitute around 15 percent of all cases brought in front of the courts. Romania is not a penitentiary state; it is not a state of criminals. The population needs its civil and commercial courts to work well too – and those are not high on the agenda of the EU-designed mechanism”.
Anca Paduraru is a journalist of 20 years, the past nine as a correspondent with the English service of Deutsche Welle Radio. In 2004, she received the Press Freedom Award from Reporters Without Borders. Anca holds three Master’s degrees: in European Affairs, Political Sciences and Electrical Engineering, respectively. Published by International Relations and Security Network (ISN)