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The Law on “hiding dignitaries’ wealth”

Senators convinced us, this late April, that they are not worthy of the confidence “bestowed” on them by voters. We should say that, considering the manner of approaching and finalising debates on the bill tabled by the Justice Minister, referring to the new wealth statement forms, they have proved they are worthy of our despise, not only of our distrust.

Amending the legislation on dignitaries’ wealth and interests – in the sense of a perfectly transparent control on wealth and conflicts of interests – has been one of the objectives announced by Macovei on taking over the Minister of Justice mandate. The initial bill as proposed by the Government was quite well received by EU Member States and by the European Commission, as a step forward on the path to eliminating corruption. But the form passed by the Senate plenum was subject to modifications that affect the transparency of public offices, turning the draft law on wealth statements into a law on wealth hiding. With the same arrogance with which their colleagues in previous legislative terms slaughtered the bill on access to former political police files, Senators have eliminated from the forms proposed by the Minister of Justice several essential provisions, such as:

• tax value of land and real estate assets;

• estimated value of jewels and art collections;

• the commitment that: “This statement is a public act and I am liable, under criminal law provisions, for the inaccuracy or incompleteness of data”;

• the obligation to specify the name of the person to whom a dignitary transferred a real estate or security asset;

• the obligation for dignitaries’ relatives to state their salary incomes;

• extending the threshold of art object, collection or jewellery statements from EUR 5,000 to EUR 15,000.

Thanks to the votes cast by some of their colleagues, MPs in the ruling Coalition managed to play the game of PSD and PPRM. The modification which truly changed the nature of the bill was the elimination of the paragraph which made dignitaries criminally liable for their wealth statements.

Senatorial pretexts

The decision was taken on a proposal coming from PSD Senator Serban Nicolae, who put forth the pretext that the provision was “superfluous”. So that Senators accepted the amendment, with 50 votes in favour and 46 against. According to the ballot list, voting in favour of the amendment were PD Senator Marius Marinescu and Radu Berceanu’s card (as the latter was not in the hall during the voting), Radu Câmpeanu (PNL) and Ilie Stoica (PUR). Realising, after quite a long while, the blinder they had made, several Coalition Senators tried to amend things and urged that the procedure be resumed, claiming that admitting such an amendment eliminates the very substance matter of the normative act. Once this article eliminated, the nation’s representatives can make public only those parts of their wealth that they choose to, and hide the less justifiable parts away from the voters’ eyes.

That parliamentarian insolence went beyond the limit was proved by the fact that, after having massacred the bill, Senators tried to convince Monica Macovei that their vote was a fair one. This is the farfetched argument used by PPRM Senator Gheorghe Funar to justify his support for eliminating the provision under which public dignitaries have to mention the name of the person to whom they sell an asset: “What if he simply goes broke and goes to the rag fair to sell everything he has?” Senate Speaker Nicolae Văcăroiu (PSD) in turn pointed out: “Stop blaming the European Union. It is the national Parliament that makes this decision! Nobody forces us to go all the way with this!”

Senators vote against national interest

As expected, modification of the draft law and the Senate’s vote sparked Minister of Justice Monica Macovei’s discontent. She said the new text was a back loop to the old wealth statement forms: “The law was passed with modifications which render it obscure”, and added that Senators voted against national interests. “Senators have voted against the interest of this country, which needs effective mechanisms in the fight against corruption,” Macovei told a press conference.

Amending the laws on public dignitaries’ wealth and interests, in the sense of perfectly transparent control over conflicts of interests and wealth was one of the objectives announced by Macovei on taking over the Minister of Justice mandate. It was also one of the main requirements of the European Union so as Romania to close the Justice and Home Affairs chapters. The initial Government bill was extremely well received by EU Member States and the European Commission, being seen as a step forward in the road to eliminating corruption. Monica Macovei points out that, through the form endorsed by the Senate plenum, changes have been operated which affect the transparency of the public office, in the sense that wealth statements are rendered obscure. “I have no comments on the proposals made by PPRM and PSD,” Macovei stated. She also refused to comment on the fact that Senators for the PNL-PD Alliance voted in favour of eliminating the amendments on wealth statement transparency. The Minister still has one hope left: that the law will regain its initial form in the Chamber of Deputies.

“I hope the bill will be corrected in the Chamber, and it will return to its initial form. The Justice Ministry will continue to support the law as it was passed in Government. The only concession we are willing to make is in the sense of passing even stricter provisions”, the Minister added.

Minister Macovei emphasised that as detailed wealth statements as possible should be filled in. This is not a fad of the Ministry’s, but a necessary control tool and a weapon in the fight against corruption. According to the Minister, those who modified the law prove they have something to hide and they are afraid of transparency. In its modified form, Macovei explains, the law was turned from a measurement tool “into a joke,” “into a law on wealth hiding.”

Premier Călin Popescu Tăriceanu promptly reacted to the Senate vote, stating that the option of President Traian Băsescu’s sending the bill back to Parliament instead of promulgating it should not be ruled out. “I don’t mean that I will urge the President to do this, because I know I don’t need to. I know he has the necessary responsibility to take the most adequate attitude,” the PM said.

Senators’ vote: defiance to their own status

In case the ruling Coalition’s Deputies, who have a much more reliable majority in the Chamber than in the Senate, also accept this “pact with the devil” and endorse the bill in the form forwarded by Senate, the only hope for Minister Macovei and all those who voted for the PNL-PD Alliance for its anti-corruption message lies with President Traian Băsescu. However, under the Constitution, the President may only once deny promulgation, and then he has to promulgate it within ten days, because, given the features of this law, it cannot be submitted to the attention of the Constitutional Court.

If a pinch of good faith still exists in the Chamber of Deputies (and not necessarily political good faith), President Băsescu’s involvement will not be needed. The Senators’ attitude, regardless of their party membership, remains however an act of defiance not only to the European Union and the electorate, but more importantly, to their own status. They have once again proved that they see politics as a mere job, more often than not illegitimate, rather than a vocation.

Publicat în : English  de la numărul 25
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