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Anda Todor, AmCham Romania
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Defenders of Romania's laws imperil social justice

The defenders of Romania’s legal system argue that they are respecting the laws of their country on crucial decisions which affect Romania’s economy and its international standing, when in practice it seems they are exploiting the law for personal gain and the enrichment and protection of their colleagues

July 2010 - From the Print Edition

The most untouchable court in the land - the Constitutional Court - declared illegal a law which would have prevented senior members of the ex-Communist regime and its repressive apparatus from holding public office – the Lustration Law. The Romanian state has declared the Communist system criminal, so it is arguable that senior members who prolonged its existence should face prosecution.
But the Court’s decision is in contradiction with this ruling and indirectly condones the maintenance of leading figures during Communism in a post-1989 power structure. This is a further humiliation of the Revolution and spits in the face of the dead of Bucharest, Timisoara and other towns and villages where people died to build a democracy.
Later last month, with a changed personnel, the same Court helped to preserve the vastly inflated pensions of fellow magistrates, the effect of which has been to hit those pensioners at the base. The Court declared that the Government’s proposals to slash pensions by 15 per cent - a cost-saving measure to reduce Romania’s budget deficit - was unconstitutional because pensions were private property and such a move was an attack on personal wealth.
The idea of cutting pensions was a harsh move, but this did not penalise those at the bottom, because the Government promised the minimum pension would stay in place. The alternative measure which has replaced this policy – the rising of VAT from 19 to 24 per cent – sees costs rise for goods, targeting people with the lowest income the harshest.
Even if this decision was taken with the best interests of some vulnerable pensioners at heart, it also managed to protect ex-magistrates’ enormous pensions, reportedly sometimes in the region of 100,000s of Euro per year. Slashing pensions is an injustice. But destroying a system where the state keeps a privileged class of its ex-employees in luxury is a necessity. The Court can claim it is acting at the behest of the Constitution, but this is a legal document which is open to interpretation, and should be analysed in a framework of social justice, not self-preservation.
A further indication of the leadership using the law as a mask for their own self-interest is Romania’s Upper House - the Senate - and its decision to butcher the establishment of a reformed National Integrity Agency (ANI) – a watchdog which monitors politicians’ wealth declarations and makes recommendations for investigation.
The Senate has limited the powers of ANI and strait-jacked the agency’s time of probing public officials’ wealth to twelve months following their term of office, in a farcical justification that this will make the agency more efficient. Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania (UDMR) senator and head of the Senate’s human rights commission Gyorgy Frunda argued the Senators’ desire to change ANI was legal. But the result will be that public officials will hold up the legal process for as long as possible until the deadline is passed - denying the public the chance to hold public officials to task.
The Senate and the Court’s actions benefit their closest colleagues at the expense of the public’s accountability of its present and past rulers. They allow the members of Parliament and the pensioned judges to enrich themselves, while the rest of the country must undertake massive financial sacrifices.
None of these senior figures profess to be doing what is right, none of them claim their actions are fair, neither do they declare that their reasonings are in the interests of the Romanian people - instead their only defence is that their decisions are legal. This is dictatorship by formality.

By Michael Bird

There is 1 comment:

Andrei Panait: on 2010-07-06 02:40:31
Thank you for a very good article, Mr. Bird. I have never seen the problems described summarised in such a nutshell. The essential difficulty with Romanian lawmakers and judges as you say, is that they hide behind their own interpretation of "the letter and wording" of the law, as opposed to "the spirit" of the law, and their intepretations are at best flawed, and blatantly biased towards their own material/financial interest. For this there will be a day of reckoning, but what makes the whole thing worse is that in a country like Romania, this phenomenon will eventually devalue and destroy the entire notion of democracy, the notion of "separation of powers" and "checks and balances", because quite simply, if people allow this abuse of power and public money to continue, there are no more effective checks and balances. Both the judges and the parliamentarians who support these "self-protective" measures are effectively declaring themselves to be an "untouchable elite", answerable to no-one.

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