Are Recent Anti-Graft Efforts in Romania Credible?

 

Recent convictions of high-level public officials, such as judge Georgeta Buliga and former prime minister Adrian Nastase, seem to show that Romania is strengthening efforts to curb corruption, in response to pressure from the European Union (EU). However, some people remain skeptical about how sustainable these efforts are and whether they will bring about long-lasting changes in the country.

Since it joined the EU in 2007, Romania has been under special monitoring with regards to improvements in its anti-corruption policies. The latest assessments by European institutions acknowledged recent efforts to prosecute politicians and officials accused of corruption, but pointed out that there is still much more to be done, such as tackling corruption in the judiciary and applying tougher sentences to graft cases.

Some reforms in this direction have taken place, for instance the implementation of new rules to check the workings of the judiciary. A bill to simplify procedures to seize assets is also being debated in Parliament.

Nevertheless, scholar Alina Mungiu-Pippidi, from the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin, has alerted that repressive tactics are not enough to fight systemic corruption.

According to Laura Stefan, member of the EU team that oversees anti-graft policies in the region, there is fear that some of the steps taken to fight corruption are only ‘cosmetic efforts’, and that the country might even regress on that front following the next parliamentary elections in November.

In addition to the EU, the government also has to convince the population that real changes are taking place. The feeling of distrust toward public institutions, including the justice system, remains strong among Romanians, after many years of impunity and unequal treatment to people in power.

For additional information, read the article “EU pressure finally spurs Romania into graft action” on uk.reuters.com.

Beyond Perception: Has Romania’s Governance Improved since 2004?

Romania and Bulgaria encounter today problems in joining the visa-free Schengen area. The main one in the public eye is corruption. Both countries pledged to improve their rule of law when signing their accession treaties in 2005, yet little progress is perceived by observers or captured with governance measurements relying on perception, such as CPI and World Bank Governance indicators. This paper explores real policy, with fact-based indicators, to trace progress in the area – or lack of it – since 2004 to the present.

Beyond Perception: Has Romania’s Governance Improved since 2004?

Romania and Bulgaria encounter today problems in joining the visa-free Schengen area. The main one in the public eye is corruption. Both countries pledged to improve their rule of law when signing their accession treaties in 2005, yet little progress is perceived by observers or captured with governance measurements relying on perception, such as CPI and World Bank Governance indicators. This paper explores real policy, with fact-based indicators, to trace progress in the area – or lack of it – since 2004 to the present.

Romanian Coalition for a Clean Parliament: a Quest for Political Integrity

This book is about an anticorruption campaign that took place in Romania in 2004 and which prevented nearly one hundred controversial MPs from being reelected. While this campaign was considered original by many observers, the problems it addressed are widespread in the postcommunist world: political elites which at times look more like predatory elites, high state capture, constituencies with low civic competence and low interest in politics. This situation looks at times hopeless in the Balkans and former Soviet Union. But it is not. By and large, what we present here is a success story.

Romanian Coalition for a Clean Parliament: a Quest for Political Integrity

This book is about an anticorruption campaign that took place in Romania in 2004 and which prevented nearly one hundred controversial MPs from being reelected. While this campaign was considered original by many observers, the problems it addressed are widespread in the postcommunist world: political elites which at times look more like predatory elites, high state capture, constituencies with low civic competence and low interest in politics. This situation looks at times hopeless in the Balkans and former Soviet Union. But it is not. By and large, what we present here is a success story.

New Study Shows Outside Influence on Key Romanian Institutions As Main Weakness

Transparency International’s national chapter in Romania has released a new National Integrity System study revealing that the public administration, political parties and the business sector are the most vulnerable components of the countries governance system. The relationship between political and interest groups and the public sector, marked by the politicization of public office and high level of discretion in the allocation of public resources, is pointed out as one of the main factors behind widespread corruption in the country.

According to the study, one of the reasons for the vulnerability of Romanian institutions to outside influence is the lack of sufficient resources and independence to resist political interference and pressure by interest groups. Another main weakness present throughout the pillars constituting the national integrity system is the limited transparency and disclosure of information about the public administration.

The document also criticizes efforts to fight corruption just by pursuing convictions of a handful of corrupt officials at the Courts and calls for a broad and comprehensive anti-corruption strategy to tackle the weaknesses in all pillars and build preventive structures into the system.

Read the press release “Romania National Integrity System – Fail in the test of resistance to corruption” on transparency.org.

Say NO to Corruption

The project developed a guide is intended to help young people with a batch of information about corruption and serious consequences of this fact.

The publication is divided into two chapters.

The first chapter contains general information about what is corruption, what is not corruption, influence traffic, serious consequences of this fact, methods to prevent it, national and international anti-corruption documents etc.

The second chapter contains results, ideas and opinions of young people resulted from developing various activities in the project “Youth against Corruption”, local and final debates on ethics in education and public administration, the findings of a research study on the effects of corruption in education and the results of a survey on the perception of young people about corruption.

This guide has been published in the project “Youth against Corruption”, coordinated by the Pro Democracy Association in partnership with the Romanian Association for Debate, Oratory and Rhetoric, funded by the European Union, through the Transition Facility 2007/19343.01.11 – Strengthening support of civil society in the fight against corruption.

Effectiveness and efficiency in the Romanian school system: a survey (2007-2008)

The project aimed at analyzing the potential of decentralization in the Romanian educational system, providing the basic resources for a comparative study in multiple countries under the coordination of Brookings Institute. The project laid down a three-step analysis.

Step one was to implement a structured questionnaire concerning the budgets of 30 schools and to examine whether there is a connection between the allotted figures and the performance level of each school or the needs of that particular community. Step two consists in the qualitative analysis explaining certain disparities (if there would have been the case) with regard to available resources of different schools or per each student. Finally, conclusions and policy proposals were included in a report and a series of local debates related to this subject was organized.

Lights and Shadows in the Romanian Schools

A resource tracking survey on a sample of 30 Romanian schools reveals interesting trends. Always paraded as a national priority, but poorly researched and understood, the Romanian public education system continues to under-perform and leak resources. Budgets have steadily increased over the last years, but the signs of improvement are still to be seen. This report aims to shed a glimmer of light on the sector. Project sponsored by the Transparency and Accountability Project (TAP), a joint global initiative of Brookings and the Results for Development Institute, Washington DC.

Participation and integrity in local budgets 2006

The project aimed to increase transparency and integrity in public budget design and implementation and foster participation of local civil society in community issues. TI Romania implemented trainings for local civil society organizations, evaluated local community priorities regarding the local budget, evaluated the relationship between the civil society, the local businesspeople and the administration, and finally drew up the good practices guide and organized a round table with all stakeholders, to debate on positive and negative aspects and incorporate observations and recommendations for a better relationship between the local public administration and citizens.

The Transparency of European Funds in Romania

The project aims to:
– Make the EU funding process more transparent;
– Make the management institution responsible for the funding process more accountable;
– Raise the level of citizens’ involvement in the EU funding process.
Partners in the Group are: Media Monitoring Agency, Romanian Training Institute, Romanian Centre for Investigative Journalism, Partners for Local Development Foundation, the Association for the Promotion and Protection of Freedom of Speech, OSI, Pro Democracy Association

Assessment of FOIA compliance (2002/2005)

In November 2005 a financing contract was signed for a new project funded by the European Union through Phare program. The project started to be implemented at the end of 2005 and during 2006 we have conducted an evaluation of the respect of transparency laws by public authorities. According to the law each public institution is required to publish an annual report (activity and financial) but the rate of compliance with these procedures reached a feeble 4% of all public bodies (as presented by a quantitative evaluation conducted by the Romanian Government). Following an in-depth research, the project aims to identify best-practice models and to train representatives of the public bodies in how to collect data and to put them together in an annual report which will provide relevant and accurate information to the public.
This project is a follow-up of the advocacy campaign run by SAR in 2000 for the adoption of FOIA. A first assessment of its implementation was carried in 2002 and indicating unsatisfactory compliance with legal provision. For the current project we use the same methodology and sample as in 2002 allowing comparisons.

Regional initiative for an integrity-related message

This regional project aimed to acknowledge the value of efforts made by caricaturists and investigative journalists in promoting a public integrity (anti-corruption) message in South-Eastern European countries. The project involves investigative journalists and caricaturists from Bulgaria, Hungary, Serbia, Macedonia, the Czech Republic, the Republic of Moldova and Romania. The locales of the projects were Busteni and Bucharest, Romania. The following were partners in the project: Media Monitoring Agency – Catavencu Academy, Cartoonist Network Rights – Romania, Goethe Institute Bucharest.

Test Case for Performance and Transparency in the Local Public Admininistration: Property Restitution (2007-2008)

Beyond the legal details of the restitution process, two characteristics define Romania as an unique state in the Central and Eastern Europa:

  • indecision regarding compensations, in nature or equivalent, so that successive laws, produced and implemented for more than a decade, created confusion and overlapped rights
  • Large-scale abuse at local and central levels, favored by laws with loopholes and irregular judicial practice, visible through the huge discrepancies among restitution indicators, from one county to another

SAR initiated the first analysis with numeric indicators regarding the situation of restitutions, which shows who is at fault and why.

The scope of the project was the improvement of capacities for the local public administration towards implementing public policies.

The specific objective was to evaluate the situation for three indicators: performance, transparency and responsiveness by utilizing a test-case applied at a national level.

Starting from the evaluation, SAR identified and promoted the best modalities to increase the local capacity in relation to the three aspects, through consultation and advocacy.

Activities:

  1. Evaluating the local administration through a test-case. The activity included documentation and data collection, through interviews, data analysis and interpretation and publishing the report
  2. Round table for consulting stakeholders
  3. Advocacy activities for promoting the recommendations: preparing the activity, meetings with key decision factors, workshop, disseminating publications, disseminating results to mass media

Partners

APADOR-CH

Implementation period: December 2007 – September 2008

 

Responsibility through transparency – access to public information in Romania and Yugoslavia

The project aimed to accomplish an evaluation of the current situation regarding access to public information in Romania and Yugoslavia and to promote free access to information in a public campaign carried out in both countries. The project’s locales are Bucharest and Belgrade.Transparency International Romania is the main organization implementing this project, in partnership with the Centre for Policy Studies in Belgrade.

Nu Da Spaga! – DON’T ASK FOR BRIBE II

The project sought to:
– inform and raise the awareness of young adults, especially those that (will) activate in fields frequently associated with small corruption;
– involve the professional associations from justice, public administration fields in promoting the legal stipulations and the deontological codes, and in promoting their self-regulation role, in order to increase their responsibility;
– strengthen TIR image as an organization with expertise in providing applicable models for reducing the small corruption phenomenon and to strengthen the role of the professional associations as promoters of an ethic and responsible attitude towards beneficiaries.
This campaig is the follow-up of a similar one developed in 2003-2004.

The Coalition for Clean Government

The initiative continued the work of the successful Coalition for a Clean Parliament. The members of the CCP decided to continue the monitoring of the public arena creating a Coalition for a Clean Government bringing up new issues and new approaches:

  • Declarations of wealth and interests – In the spring of 2005, SAR together with other members of the coalition argued for the improvement of the declarations of wealth and interest especially for high-level civil servants and dignitaries. SAR participated in several discussions and got involved in a working group created for drafting of new forms for the declarations of wealth and interest that would enable the public scrutiny of the wealth and interests of politicians and public servants. The effects of the new legislation were visible. Journalists used these instruments as means to monitor, identify and signaled existing irregularities in the 2005-2006 declarations. Furthermore the Prosecutors Office has also started investigations on these issues. All these indicate a better fit of this format and transformed it into an effective instrument. However six members of Parliament have initiated a new law attempting to replace again the established format with a vague and less detailed one. Unfortunately the law received tacit approval in the Senat in mid February 2006 but due to the critical stance taken by SAR representatives in the media, the Social-Democratic Party expressed their opposition to the project and the initiators (members of SDP) have spoken about the withdrawal of their proposal.
  • Increase transparency in public acquisitions – the coalition has addressed the issues of transparentization of public contracts. In October 2005 sixteen organizations made a public appeal for the legal endorsement of the principle that any contract of public acquisition, public-private partnership, concession, privatization etc should become automatically public from the moment of its signature, excluding thus any confidentiality clauses. The Government was opened to NGOs proposal and formed a working group, inviting SAR and other NGOs to participate. The working group has already drafted changes of the legislation that not only complies with the European acquis, but set even higher standards and it might become a model of transparency in public acquisitions. The project is now on the table of the Government to decide on the most appropriate procedure for approval.
  • Support anti-corruption policies – the efficiency of the anti-corruption fight was one of the most critical issues for the European integration of Romania. In December 2004, the Brussels European Council decided the conclusion of the accession negotiations with Romania but included specific safeguard clauses that would allow the postponement of the date of accession with a year. anti-corruption fight was one of the red-flagged areas and significant improvement of its efficiency is needed in a very short time. Although significant steps had been taken in the right direction, the reforms were still on the edge as they were facing the (open or hidden) opposition from people in decision positions feeling threatened by recent developments. Therefore a close public scrutiny of the whole process was needed to early signal and to prevent any potential derailment from the right track as it had been seen in the rejection of the law approving the OUG 134/2005.

Coalition for FOIA

In 2001, a coalition of Romanian NGOs led by SAR successfully acted as a catalyst in building consensus for the adoption of a Law on Access to Public Information (also known as FOIA). In a context where legislative initiatives from the Government and the Opposition had been submitted to the Parliament, and a Law on Classified Information was also envisaged, in March 2001 a civil society coalition was forged, which effectively facilitated consultations between the Government (Ministry of Public Information) and the Opposition (National Liberal Party). The result of this process was a common agreement by all parties to a draft law that was subsequently adopted by the Parliament in September 2001. The final version of the FOIA incorporated articles and concepts developed by the Romanian civil society organizations based on the Slovak and Bulgarian experience.