The never-ending cycle of corruption

Article published on May 15, 2006
Article published on May 15, 2006

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

Bribes, backhanders and small favours; the growth of a vocabulary that reveals the extent to which corruption in Romania is threatening to endanger Bucharest’s accession to the EU in 2007

In Romania, 42% of households have paid out bribes at some time or another and 38% of officials have received them, according to a report published by the World Bank. When a Romanian deals with the state, he puts his hand in his pocket; it’s a basic reflex. Corruption is ingrained as a basic mechanism of survival and is now considered normal; in hospitals, in schools, in public administration and beyond.

According to the author and writer Mircea Cartarescu, the solution to the problem would have been to kick the old allies of the Communist regime out of politics immediately after 1989. A debate is now beginning around the draft lustration law, which is designed to crack down on corruption. But legal and legislative solutions to the problem are struggling to get off the ground. Guided by a reflex of self-preservation, then President Ion Iliescu allowed corruption to consolidate itself as a part of the everyday reality of Romania. After his rule, despite the hopeful speeches of the election campaign, Romania has still not been able to formulate an effective response to corruption. Emil Constantinescu’s authority during his four years as president was tarnished by scandals linked to privatisation and cigarette trafficking.

A hesitant government

In 2002, an anti-corruption court was created, though it still didn’t act to attack the root of the problem. In the last elections, the current President, Traian Basescu, promised to crack down on corruption, and his hard line has won him a great deal of popular support. Since his election, the National Anticorruption Department (NAD) has finally acquired the autonomy demanded by the EU and has the support of about 39% of Romanians. The work of the current Minister of Justice, Monica Macovei, has also received approval from international observers, and the government has recently approved the creation of a national anti-corruption strategy.

However, the effectiveness of these anticorruption measures is open to question. Taking up the theory of the Bulgarian researcher Ivan Krastev, for whom the post-communist phase may be more corrupt than the communist regime itself, legal expert Sever Voinescu has shown that this ‘paradox of corruption’ also applies to Romania.

In 2001, a Gallup survey confirmed that 94% of Romanians judged corruption as being ‘widespread’ or ‘extremely widespread.’ According to a more recent study carried out in February 2006 by the Office of Romanian Social Research, the most corrupt employees are, in descending order, those working in justice, customs, the police, hospitals, local authorities, financial services, trade unions, schools, banks and the press. According to an evaluation by the NAD, only 17% of the 744 people prosecuted in 2005 for corruption occupied key positions. So, are the big fish escaping the net? Almost half of people asked in the aforementioned survey also think that the Social Democratic Party (SDP), which was previously in power, had been more preoccupied with increasing the wealth of its leaders than with the people’s well being.

Declarations of intent

In its last report, the European Commission called for the Romanian Government to focus its fight against high-level corruption and corruption within the anticorruption organisations. This is what Daniel Morar, the chief Attorney of the National Anticorruption Department (NAD), has promised to do. He is presently investigating a number of ministers, including the former Prime-Minister Adrian Nstase, who is seen as the most corrupt person in the country, and the Vice-President of the government, George Copos.

According to journalist and political analyst Emil Hurezeanu, it is the pressure from the EU and the imminent danger of a social explosion that is presently dictating the battle against corruption. The message for the campaign to increase public awareness is clear: don’t accept bribery! However, if public denouncement helps prevention, it’s taking legal action that helps get rid of endemic corruption. Furthermore, indictments may not be enough to replace sanctions, as the Director of Transparency International in Romania, Victor Alistar, pointed out. “The Romanian government must modify their triumphant attitude” he added. In its national report on corruption in 2006, made public this past May 1st, the Romanian branch of Transparency International deplored the fact that corruption it still present at all levels of society despite the efforts made to stamp it out. The report underlines the necessity to maintain pressure on the government. It continues to recommend Romania’s accession to the EU on the 1st of January 2007.