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Bucharest
November 21, 2019
EDITORIAL

Coloured balloons

There is nothing new under the sun, the same as in the interview granted by President Traian Basescu to the public television. As he did before, the president used this opportunity to fight his enemies. He duelled with his old foes – the tycoons and profiteer businessmen, even the debutant teachers who dared to ask how to live with a monthly salary of RON 600. The president did not give up his bellicose style, even though he is out of foes. The population is tired, as it would like to make “peace” and see how to escape the crisis. But the president treats people with live “duels,” as if he were in a permanent election campaign. All we are missing are coloured balloons. Finally, the head of state spelled it out: if we don’t push forward with the austerity measures in 2011 as well, we won’t put Romania on the right track. He seemed to repeat what the head of the IMF delegation, Jeffrey Franks said earlier on Wednesday. He even warned the government not to restore salaries to their initial level, before the 25 pc cut, next year. It is unclear what the government understood. It is however certain that both Premier Boc and part of the ministers keep saying loud and clear that the salaries (of civil servants) might increase by 10 pc next year, if the government refrains from paying the 13th salary. A simple calculation shows us that Romanians will gain about 2 pc in this formula, set aside the inflation that is forecast at 7.8 pc this year.


Now, as the IMF mission to Bucharest ends, authorities speak – in a soft voice – about dismissing 74,000 civil servants in 2010 and 15,000 more in 2011, as part of the Government’s reform programme. Authorities, incapable of showing anything else but inability to react to the hostile economic environment at a time of crisis, seems to get along well with an unhappy IMF, which is however happy that we did not get even worse than we are. On the other hand, the population understands too little of the figures associated with a package that promises higher salaries the very moment when existing salaries are cut by a quarter, while the power and the opposition joust over who made more mistakes in 2008, 2009 or 2010. Though essential, expressions like “continuing fiscal consolidation” have no relevance for the average Romanian. When confronted, the Boc Cabinet and the IMF delegation seem to see what they wish and totally ignore the drama lived by most of the population. They are offered coloured balloons.


Unlike the ‘90s, when the same IMF imposed draconic conditions upon Bucharest authorities to give them loans worth a few hundred million USD, nowadays the brave Washington-based institution proves to be more accommodating and simply willing to do business. It lost most of its “overseer-with-a-whip” attitude and no longer sanctions every instance when a country moves away from the agreed line. Now, it rather looks like a merchant bank that only tries to keep the client in business, so it can recoup its money, with no interest in anything else.


We ignore why the IMF has become so accommodating. Maybe European chancelleries fear that an emerging country going out of control might initiate a chain reaction across the continent. Or maybe it is the fact that, unlike the ‘90s, Romania is now a member of both NATO and the EU. On the other hand, Brussels proves to be ruthless when it comes to Justice-related policies… We can only speculate about the motives, but it is still certain that the IMF is no more the institution it used to be. The same financial institution that predicted, early this year, that Romania would have an economic growth of 1.3 pc in 2010, now bluntly tells us that we will “enjoy” a negative growth of 1.9 pc of the GDP. Strange enough, in a country where living standards decline by the day, the IMF praises the government for doing its job well…


But the IMF leaves, while the government stays. It is the same government that proves its lack of enthusiasm for reforms that would get the country out of the moving sands. Too concerned with their own political future, Democrat-Liberal leaders got stuck in their own inability and interests left unnoticed by the head of the state. They are the same affable ministers, unable the have the population’s support, worrying for their own house (“that looks large, though it’s still small” – for some), by the country logo paid with hundreds of thousands of EUR, when it could have been purchased with just a few thousands, or simply by the future that looks more and more uncertain, as the party is sinking in the polls.


Anyway, the president promised a thorough evaluation of the government’s activity, on September 1, when he will tell settle things. After a few more monthly achievements – like layoffs, price hikes, higher taxes etc. – a few heads will roll, perhaps even that of PM Boc. We’ll have a fiesta and will receive some more coloured balloons, to celebrate a victory of impotence. And we’ll be told that, from then on, we’ll start living better. Until the next anti-crisis measures.

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