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Public admin remains at crisis point

Inefficiency in public service is holding Romania’s development back, argues Adrian Ciocanea, head of the Department for European Affairs

June 2008 - From the Print Edition

A massive impediment to Romania’s development as an EU member state is the lack of efficiency in central and local administration.
Human resources are a major problem as staff turnover is volatile, people
change positions regularly and ineptitude is prevalent.
“Usually people want to work in the administration because they believe this
is an opportunity to reach higher positions, while others are simply not competent enough to get hired somewhere else,” secretary of state and head of the Department for European Affairs (DAE) Adrian Ciocanea tells The Diplomat.
Public servants are appointed to high positions and asked to solve problems
that have remained unresolved by their predecessors for many years. Salaries are low and staff leave to the private sector.
Also it is diffi cult to sack a useless person in the civil service. “A director in a Ministry needs two years of annual unsatisfactory evaluations in a row to be
thrown out,” Ciocanea says. Some key decision-makers believe that the positions they hold are for life and act as though they are untouchable.
However the secretary of state fears that instead of implementing a plan to
reduce the headcount of public servants to make them more accountable and efficient, the country may see an increase in people hired in local dministration. This is due to the autonomy that county councils and mayors now enjoy.
“Any mayor or county council can hire as many people as they want because
the state and the contributors pay and no one else regulates this,” he says. Councils could boost their employees for political gain, with effi ciency losing out.
There is some hope. The Government, political parties, unions and NGOs have
agreed to draw up a plan of reforms for 2008 based on the principles of the EU’sLisbon Strategy, which aims to increase economic competitiveness. This month the document is put under public debate and the Government will adopt Romania’s strategy for 2008. Ciocanea, its coordinator, says Romania should be proud as the fi rst country to take such action, especially considering that it was only last March that the EU decided to relaunch the document.
The development of entrepreneurship and small and medium-sized enterprises
(SMEs), the increase of renewable energy sources and a higher compatibility between the demands on the workforce and the qualifi cation of young graduates are the plan’s main objectives. Part of this is the necessity to reduce high bureaucracy in Romania, which are huge burdens for small entrepreneurs and obstacles for a foreign investor. “We want to eliminate 25
per cent of the authorisations needed for a company to set up,” Ciocanea says.
Another decision is to increase SMEs’ access to auctions for public works. For
example, a small construction company has to employ a topographer to be allowed to apply for a tender to paint schools in a village. The Government will eliminate similarly odd conditions.
But these reforms do not answer the demands of many businesses and foreign investors for easing the restrictions on hiring workers from non-EU countries.
Industries such as shipbuilding in Romania registered losses of 45 million Euro
in 2007, because thousands of people left to work in other countries for higher salaries.
There are too few skilled Romanians to fill the positions and this sector needs to import workers from China, Vietnam or Ukraine.
But Romanian legislation makes it difficult for a company to bring non-EU workers, who have to wait months, and sometimes years, to receive a work permit.
Each member state can negotiate with Brussels the number of non-EU workers it needs. These take place after the business community in a certain country voices its needs to the Government. In Romania, the Ministry of Labour is responsible for this.
But despite massive pressure from business over the last two years, it has not appealed to Brussels to loosen the restrictions.

Post EU-accession strategy:
dead and buried

The secretary of state has also been responsible for drawing up a National Post- EU Accession Strategy. This is the sevenyear plan that every new EU nation needs to outline which direction the country is heading and how to exploit the opportunities of member status. The strategy should include political and economic goals which can help attract foreign investments.
Ciocanea and many experts compiled the document. But this was in vain as there was no cross-party consensus to agree a fi nal draft. It was buried. After 18 months in the EU, Romania remains without a post-accession strategy.

Interview by Ana Maria Nitoi



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