EDITORIAL

Don’t

The echoes of the visit paid by the IMF mission to Bucharest can be seen on the streets. Citizens are the ones that must draw conclusions, which are painful for them, but especially for those who still believe that Romanian politics can be reformed, brought to the conscience degree of being capable to (also) tend to the electorate’s needs. Though six months ago he was being told that the country has safely overcome the crisis, the citizen now sees salaries axed by 25 pc, pensions and unemployment benefits cut by 15 pc, child-rearing allowances, meal tickets and bank interests becoming subject to taxation, the 13th salary in the public sector vanishing into thin air, and the list may go on. A Romanian newspaper wrote these days that 2010 is the year of economic and social disaster. Are we already impatient? Most analysts claim this is only the beginning, as the austerity measures taken these days won’t be enough and must be followed by VAT and flat tax increases. The ruling coalition has run out of solutions. To avoid bankruptcy and payment default, the citizen must be bled dry… with taxes for anything. Even the minimum pension of RON 350 will be subject to taxation (as President Traian Basescu tells us), may it be by as little as RON 1. The only thing missing from the picture is the tax on celibate, paid before 1989 by the Romanian stubborn enough not to have children while very young. Or, the other way ‘round… a tax on children.


In such conditions, there are a few things the citizen should keep in mind:


– Don’t believe promises made by parties, politicians or candidates involved in the political struggle; the lessons of the electoral years 2008 (general elections) and 2009 (presidential ballot) are more than illustrative with this regard. The fake optimism displayed by our elects has proven convincing for the moment, but it did not take long before becoming detrimental. In fact, the political and economic developments are looking completely different now. Examples? Let’s remember the optimistic messages given by the head of state and the premier, as well as other politicians, in support of the need to increase teachers’ salaries by 50 pc. When they came to power, they did precisely the opposite: not only did they drop any idea of salary increase, but they also froze the earnings of education personnel and now they contemplate the idea of sacking 15,000 people from the system. Another example (which became legend, like many others), is the promise that the flat tax and VAT will stay at the same level. “If the flat tax and VAT will increase, both I and the PDL must go home,” said President Traian Basescu in the presidential campaign of 2009. To avoid contradicting himself, the head of state – as he is the real decision maker, rather than PM Boc – chose to cut pensions and salaries. What will he say if VAT and flat tax will have to be raised in the autumn?


– Don’t think parties are consistent with themselves in politics. Once they get in the Parliament, parties forget their promises – those related to reaching certain goals, as well as those regarding the possible alliances in view of forming ruling coalitions. The Democrat-Liberals, which have about one third of places in Parliament, have a comfortable majority only due to the alliance with UDMR and the so-called independents (who actually defected from PSD and PNL, seeking to acquire new functions, or at least to keep part of their privileges by joining the ruling coalition). Those who voted in a certain constituency, for a certain candidate, did not think their elect will take a completely different road.


– Don’t trust the electoral promises about cutting taxes, keeping the existing jobs and making new ones. When you hear such promise, it might dissimulate completely opposite measures, like the promises made in 2008-2009 vs. what is going on now.


– Have no illusions about the reform of the health system. During the last two decades, everybody said the system must be reformed, but to no avail. The recent cases of people getting infected in hospitals, the lack of money for medicines and care, the unjustified expenses etc. are good reasons for skepticism about the chances that something will be really changed in the system. Now, the reform reaches its peak: half of hospitals might close down.


– Don’t dream about the education system getting better. Each governance and minister came with their own visions about the education reform. After so many reforms, the real performance of education is worsening every year.


– Don’t hope the Romanian state will be able to draw at least part of the European funds that should stimulate the Romanian economy. Nobody ever mentions how much of these funds was the Boc government able to draw.


– Don’t hope you will be able to drive on motorways, and try to get used to the terrible road traffic. No more funds are being allotted to infrastructure investments.


– Don’t imagine that the pensions system will be reformed. Justice, army, police and other privileged categories won’t accept losing anything from their huge pensions, let alone seeing them dropped to the level of regular pensions. When their interests are at stake, any idea of social solidarity disappears. They will be forced to do it… some may say. Let’s wait and see…


– Don’t think Romanian agriculture will reach a high level of performance in a generation’s lifetime. Former premier Petre Roman said he won the bet with agriculture ever since 1990, but productivity per hectare has remained unchanged so far, and about one quarter of agricultural lands are left fallow now.


– Don’t hope that the reform of the Parliament will change anything for the better. Even with their numbers cut to just 300, our legislators will still have the same mentality and origin as now. One cannot change somebody – person or party – overnight. The best example is switching to the (weighted) uninominal vote, which left the Parliament as “unengaging” as before.


– Don’t hope that replacing one government with another will really improve things. The Boc I, II, III and IV cabinets are a very good example. Enjoying the support of the same party, with the same interests and goals, the possible changes will be minimal. Though some people may be changed, the recently announced measures cannot be avoided. It is too late. The measures should have been taken in 2009, perhaps in a “softer” variant. But then we had presidential elections. Can someone imagine that, if negative measures were taken, Traian Basescu would have still got re-elected?


Finally, fed up with politics, the population looks tired and disgusted. Unfortunately, it cannot escape the consequences of amateurish policies. Some will see their salaries cut, others will be laid off this year (70,000 civil servants) or in the years to come (some more 250,000). Those who escape will pay taxes! For now, the citizen chooses to protest in the street. But is this really of any use?

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