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The Parliament yesterday started the debates on the State Budget for 2013. Until the closing of this newspaper issue, yesterday evening, the senators and deputies had adopted on article-by-article basis, with amendments, the whole text of the Law on the state budget and were due to move to debating the annexes which provide the budget of loan-ordering institutions – ministries, authorities and agencies.According to a decision made Monday by the Permanent Bureau, deputies and senators will work Tuesday and Wednesday in common session, until 8.00 PM, and Thursday and Friday probably until the end of debates. The final vote will possibly be cast either at the end of this week, or the next week, depending on the decision over the re-examining of the Statute of the members of the Parliament, scheduled for Thursday. At the beginning of debates yesterday, PM Ponta said that the draft budget proposed by the government for this year was discussed, negotiated and agreed with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), European Commission (EC) and World Bank (WB), and may still be improved, but amendments can be accepted only if there is a basis for them.He explained that the draft budget shifted the emphasis from financing provided from the state budget, which proved to be “strictly clientele-driven” during 2010-2012, to European and reimbursable funds. The premier also explained that the government decided to maintain the flat tax rate, because this was among the political arrangements agreed upon when USL was founded, although he – as a Social-Democrat – pleads for a differentiated taxation system.
“As for the 16 pc flat tax rate, I never hid, and never will, that, as a Social-Democrat, I continue to believe in differentiated taxation, but the political agreement that laid at the basis of founding the Social-Liberal Union and the firm promise we made in the electoral campaign about preserving the flat tax is revealed in this budget and I want my message to the business environment to compensate what, from a Social-Democratic from the point of view, is less than welcome in the social sector,” Ponta said.“I thank the Parliament groups of UDMR and PPDD for the extremely useful and sound talks we had. I want to send the message that the opposition represented in Parliament and in Romania by UDMR and PPDD is and can be a partner for the parliamentary majority in the talks over the present and future of this country,” Ponta mentioned. He added that he extended the same invitation to dialogue to the PDL group, which refused any meeting. The premier said that PDL lost the quality of main opposition party to PPDD, after the by-elections held Sunday in several localities of the country. He explained that any majority, regardless if it is as strong as now, or frail as last year, must respect the opposition and learn from the “painful” lessons of the past years, when a simple majority was considered as being enough to impose a point of view.The opposition’s attacksThe opposition launched retorts and attacks in plenum over the state budget. However, with USL holding the majority in Parliament, there will be no problems to pass the state budget in the variant conceived by the Executive. Former premier Mihai Razvan Ungureanu (MRU), currently leader of the Civic Force (FC) party, said that the Ponta government unfortunately failed the exam of the budget, which will return the country to socialism, inflation, unemployment, lack of jobs, poverty and costs. He added that “the government made a budget that lays more emphasis that any year after 1989 on spending, to the detriment of investments,” as the government increases the taxes for production factors. In his turn, PPDD senator Haralambie Voichitoiu accused the power of forcing the MPs of his party to vote against the state budget, which is “poorly conceived and against Romania.”UDMR deputy Erdely Istvan announced in the joint plenum that the parliamentary groups of the Union will vote against the state budget and the budget of state social insurances for 2013, because all the amendments brought by the Union were rejected.The leader of PDL, Senator Vasile Blaga yesterday criticised the budget proposed by the government, which he said favours “the non-reform of institutions at the price of destroying the private sector,” so PDL will vote against it. Blaga told PM Victor Ponta in plenum that PDL indeed has not considered as necessary to meet him over the budget, because this budget has “a remarkable clarity.” In retort, the premier attacked Blaga and MRU, though he did not specifically pronounce their names, saying that they pose as defenders of the right, but they worked in state jobs all their lives and now they want to defend private entrepreneurs like they did when they worked with the customs apparatus or with the intelligence services.
23 NGOs urge the State to stop funding Churches
A number of twenty-three non-governmental organizations (NGOs) yesterday, Day 1 of the Budget debates, called on lawmakers to stop financing religious denominations with public money and re-channel the saved money to education, research and health. “The State gives nearly EUR 540 M to religious denominations, or 0.4 pc of Romania’s GDP, an amount made public by the BOR (Romanian Orthodox Church) Patriarchy itself. To make a comparison, state arrears to medicine payments only amounts to 0.3 pc din PIB”, reads the open letter from the civil society representatives. “Both we and the other signatory organizations would like to draw parliamentarians’ attention that the sums collected from taxes and dues must be used to the direct benefit of taxpayers and not for supporting religious denominations, which are private organizations. We avail ourselves of this opportunity to reaffirm our stand on the need for the passage of a Church Contribution Law in order to replace the subsidizing of denominations from the budget with an optional contribution, very much like the system in Germany,” said Toma Patrascu, vice-president of ASUR, one of the signatory NGOs.