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May 12, 2021

Restructuring for form’s sake

During an interview for the national radio station last week, President Traian Basescu tackled in the non-conformist style that characterizes him the most diverse political and economical issues of the day. As usual, the Head of State’s statements and criticisms stirred immediate reactions, especially from the political opponents such as the Social-Democrats and the Liberals, so that the governing coalition ended up on the brink of collapse – at least at the rhetorical level. But, as anticipated by the analysts, the group interest took precedence and a compromise was reached during the meeting that the PSD and PD-L leaders had on Monday: remaining within the Government despite the fact that the two parties continue to vehemently and publicly back their previous points of view.

One of the President’s statements had to do with the need to restructure the public sector.

Traian Basescu imperatively asked the Government to tackle this issue head-on and to take the measures needed in order to cut the expenditures on public sector wages – and in his opinion that means sacking approximately 20 per cent of public servants. ‘The Government should behave with all seriousness and should massively diminish the state apparatus. I do not understand why they delay the downsizing of the excessively large state apparatus, why they do not sack a large number of public and contractual servants because they uselessly charge the bill and the state budget’s expenditures,’ the President stated. Traian Basescu added: ‘You have to cut the number of employees by 20 per cent. Take the current number of employees and cut it by 20 per cent.’

Stimulated by the Presidential encouragement, Prime Minister Emil Boc got to work. Several days before that, he had announced that the he and his Ministers would give up 20 per cent of their wages until the end of the year – a measures labeled by the media as demagogical and as lacking real economic effects. After the President’s interview the Ministers were called up at the Victoria Palace one by one in order to present their personnel cuts options and in order to analyze the possibility of lowering the number of Government agencies. But, surprise! Almost none is able to operate cuts at such a level. The Ministry of Defence invokes various reasons in the case of Romtehnica and Romavia; jobs have already been cut within the Agriculture sector; the Ministry of Tourism has just been set up, with the Ministry of Youth and Sports being in a similar situation. The Education system has a small number of employees as it is. The school inspectors’ domain is the only one that could see job cuts but according to Minister Ecaterina Andronescu the system would collapse without school inspectors. According to the Ministers, not much can be done in most of the Ministries when it comes to this issue. Only the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced the reduction of its table of functions by 55 offices of which 35 diplomatic positions, 17 technical-administrative offices and three local offices.

Finally, in what concerns us, we figured it out – the job cuts within the Ministries will most likely be minimal or inexistent. What happens locally and with the public servants? These are the domains that witness an over-saturation with personnel. Personnel that is inefficient and that is most of the times hired on the basis of connections, acquaintances, relatives or political criteria. For the common citizen the relationship with the public servant is seldom tense – long queues at the booths, excessive red tape or the shuffling from one office to another in order to solve petitions or to obtain any kind of authorization. However the real problem of the oversized public servants’ apparatus is not the one registered at the lowest hierarchical level. In fact extra labour force could even be necessary there. The great problems appear in the upper echelons where there are all kinds of smaller or bigger bosses whose effective prerogatives are often uncertain or superimposed. However in case there are job cuts the workers in the booths will be the ones affected, with the work there set to become even more exhausting and the queues set to become even longer. Undoubtedly the people holding high offices will find ways in which to maintain their jobs at the expense of the small public servants.

It is obvious that a substantial reduction of the state institutions’ expenditures is necessary. By asking for the 20 per cent cut in personnel maybe the President staked on the antipathy shown by many Romanians towards the bureaucratic system and towards the public servants. However it is hard to believe that someone will risk operating massive job cuts – in the order of 300,000 to 400,000 persons – at this time, ahead of the Presidential elections. Especially since the opposition to such a measure comes precisely from within the coalition. PSD leader Mircea Geoana labeled the initiative as ‘primitive.’ It’s true, Mr. Geoana is preparing for the electoral battle and cannot afford to lose potential votes. On the other hand however, government cohesion is absolutely necessary in order to resort to harsh measures and the 70 per cent majority that PSD and PD-L have in Parliament is no longer reliable in this case.

Well, there are many people who anticipate that the job cuts measures will remain at the level of intentions. Especially since, as I said, the Presidential elections are approaching and the risks of losing votes are significant. After the row surrounding the teachers that saw their 50 per cent wage hike dreams shattered after the elections (dreams that were stoked by the promises that both PSD and PD-L made in the 2008 electoral campaign), a new row with the labour unions of public servants should be avoided. In the current context the only palpable effect could be that, scared by the perspective of job cuts, the public servants could give up their demands for wage hikes. Or they could even accept wage cuts. That’s all.

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