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December 6, 2022

The dilemma

We are witnessing a decisive match. A final. Perhaps the final of the national championship of incompetence that is being played in the Romanian Parliament. A match between a government that must bear the burden of its incapacity to improve anything and an opposition exhausted by past mistakes. Though it may look like football, it is more similar to an antic Greek tragedy. This time, there will be no winner.

All those in the “field” bear some responsibility for the present situation, though it is hard to say who is guiltier. What is for sure, the Cabinet led by Emil Boc is in power now and bears responsibility for the austerity measures proposed to the Parliament on Monday.

Those who watch a match, even if they don’t know the teams, still make a choice, based on various reasons – colours, fans’ slogans, even the stars playing in either team. But in this political game, being a fan is out of question. Neither colours, nor slogans can be criteria for a choice.

Even less the players’ value…

Romania is the victim of repeated incompetence proven by its politicians after 1990. Mistakes and errors added to personal or group interests, to incompetence and serving the interests of political and economic clientele, while the national interest was ignored in favour of strictly election reasons. For many months, we were told lies about the situation of Romanian economy, so that rulers may keep the power in elections. Even officials of the ruling team admit it. On the other hand, we are told that the previous governance, led by Liberal PM Calin Popescu Tariceanu, turned the fast economic growth into a fiasco, by how it spent the public money, hired more civil servants and increased salaries. If we go further back in time, we will blame the Social-Democrats for the unacceptable delay of any reform early in the ‘90s and for sponsoring the endemic corruption, which later became chronic.

Our short-term, perhaps even long-term future will be at stake in Parliament on Tuesday, the most likely day for voting for, or against the no-confidence motion. The result is uncertain. PSD proposes a referendum that would allow Romanians to say how opportune they find the government’s plan to cut salaries and pensions, plus other unpopular measures. This is fantasy. The tough measures should be proposed by the Executive and passed by the Parliament. The citizen has nothing to do here. If 80 pc of Romanians voted last year in favour of curbing the number of legislators in the referendum initiated by the head of state, it is obvious that now they would vote in the same proportion against the income cuts. This is not the right solution. Yet, the “public” of this match would find it hard to make a choice, as there are only few alternate solutions, set aside the government’s incompetence and the decision errors – even those intended, like diverting public money to certain purposes etc. Those who made them will be held accountable sometimes in the future, if Romanian Justice will become what it should be. Also set aside the fact that the Boc Cabinet is perhaps the most unpopular in the last 20 years, with its controversial – as well as “opulent” – members. They ignore even how to stay decent in the relation with the citizen.

What is for sure is that we reached a critical economic situation. It is impossible to avoid tough decisions, like salary cuts, layoffs or tax hikes. Even if the austerity plan gets enforced, authorities must still borrow some EUR 5 bln this year to cover salaries and pensions. On the other hand, Europe is unable to help us, as several states of the continent are making drastic expense cuts themselves. The European Union wants to pass tough measures against its member states whose budget deficits are too high. In this context, the solution of finding money on international markets is only temporary, a matter of months. The real solution would be to bring expenses down to the level of incomes. We cannot consume more than we produce anymore.

Approval by the Parliament would mean genocide – claims the opposition and part of the media – because people on small salaries and pensioners will be unable to resist. It would force them to give up medicines, treatments, even food. To many, this is almost a death sentence, some say.

On the other hand, making no decision at all is also criminal. If we don’t trust the government, at least let’s hear the warnings of Central Bank officials. Of late, on many occasions, BNR officials warned that, without tough measures, we’ll enter payment default and will share the fate of Greece, with its chain of consequences – extreme poverty and tragedies at all levels of the society.

But something is wrong. The draft laws issued by the premier have moral problems. One cannot imagine someone living on a minimum pension of RON 350. One cannot cut the incomes of those who earn pensions and salaries up to RON 100. At least that’s what logic says. These people will probably find it impossible to survive the months to come.

On the other hand, the Boc Cabinet does not dare to deal with the huge salaries existing in certain public sectors, or it does it only tangentially, the same as with the pensions worth thousands of RON. But this is where the political clientele is, with its political and economic interests, this is where business begins and interests are being defended, in the backstage. This is why thousand- euro salaries paid by the state are left untouched. And also this is why the regular citizen will be unable to accept the anti-crisis offensive, in its form submitted to the Parliament on Monday. One cannot accept a government that favours some and punishes others.

Did anyone consider freezing salaries in certain sectors? What about limiting the maximum salary in the public system to that of the president, let’s say. Or setting a decent limit to “indecent” pensions – say one third of the president’s salary, as mentioned by the president himself (if we are to define a general rule)? What if we drastically curbed the public acquisitions that deplete the budget in a time of crisis? Certainly yes, but this would be against party and group interests etc.

The public is disappointed with the players in the field and is leaving the arena. Some immigrate, others are losing all hope. Those who stay will learn, the hard way, who won the match. It will not be them, anyway.

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