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Romania endangers its own celebrated reforms

Cracks are appearing in the fragile post-1989 reforms in two sensitive sectors in Romania – justice and health – where Romania may risk undermining its internationally-praised success.

May 2010 - From the Print Edition

In 2007, Romania was a test case for a pioneering system of verifying the wealth declarations of dignitaries and senior public servants, the National Integrity Agency (ANI).
This agency had its drawbacks – it could only monitor the claims of assets and was not an investigative body. Its establishment was a compromise between a Romanian political class scared of exposing its true wealth and the demands of an EU desperate to see Romania get tough on graft.
But a decision last month by Romania’s Constitutional Court - the most untouchable court in the land - declared the agency illegal, because it interferes in the privacy of public dignitaries and their families.
Even though critics argue that transparency was the whole point of ANI, senior judges declared otherwise and made anti-corruption illegal.
This follows the appointment earlier this year of a reported ex-member of the Communist secret police, the Securitate, as head of the national magistrate council, which oversees the nation’s judges and prosecutors – an appointment which was itself unlawful.
Such moves seem to confirm the prejudices of Romania’s sternest critics – that the nation is run by the same thieves who were pillaging the country before 1989 and only have contempt for democracy and accountability.
The Government responded by rushing through Parliament a reformed ANI – one where all wealth declarations do not have to be ‘declared’, but written down and sent secretly to ANI, thus leaving out a layer of scrutiny, but appeasing the critics of the agency’s privacy infringements. This is a watering down of a mechanism that was already diluted.
It is sad because Romania had the chance to stand tall as the pioneer of a new anti-corruption strategy in ANI – a mechanism which, if effective, could be replicated in other developing nations. Whatever the outcome of the new ANI, as regards justice reform, the Constitutional Court has handed Romania a pistol and then asked the country to point the weapon in the direction of its own foot.
Another depressing example of the nation destroying its own success is its treatment of HIV sufferers. Romania’s Communist history saw around 10,000 children in care institutions infected with HIV between 1986 and 1992. Due to a combined domestic and international effort, Romania managed to bring most of these children [who are now in their 20s], onto a course of anti-retroviral therapy – the drugs that suppress the AIDS virus.
Theoretically, all Romanian HIV carriers who are willing to use these drugs should have access. Now there are an estimated 15,000 in Romania - compared to 440,000 in Ukraine and almost one million in Russia. Romania has contained this disease for almost two decades - a record the nation should be proud to preserve.
But this year, due to a payment delay between the Ministry of Finance and the Health Ministry, over 1,000 Romanian HIV sufferers are seeing interruptions of up to one month in their vital drug course.
This makes them more resistant to drugs, more sensitive to develop full-blown AIDS and more likely to spread the virus.
Added to this, NGOs who provide clean needles to heroin addicts are running out of supplies due to a funding crisis.[see report on page 16]. Access to clean needles for Bucharest’s heroin addicts with HIV is a vital service for public health. Therefore Romania’s proud containment of HIV is now under threat from two fronts.
Someone in an office somewhere must have noticed that HIV sufferers would be without drug treatment and chose not to act – and this scenario indicates a lack of a moral common sense that is frightening.

Michael Bird

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