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September 30, 2022

The effects of the “minimalist state”

Only seldom do our politicians agree over a possible action plan, or even a mere conclusion. And even then, the “total agreement” thus achieved has a negative character, as it represents a divorce between the fundamental problem and the label attached to it. This often illustrates a logical monstrosity. Such an ill-witted agreement has been achieved recently, when power and opposition politicians agreed, during a debate on TV, that a “minimalist state” is the best solution of governance. How do they see the “minimalist state”? As a state with a minimum involvement, hence minimum administrative duties and national responsibilities, a state where private property strongly dominates everything else.

Why shouldn’t we find the optimum balance between private and public forms of property, as we encounter in all the well-organised states with a competent leadership? Romanian politicians unanimously have short answers to this question: “because the state is a sure victim of theft,” “a state company is robbed by its managers,” “”the parasitic firms controlled by managers take all the profit, leaving the state to pay the debts.” According to our politicians, this explains the fact that, as the funds allocated from the state budget to certain ministries soar, the financial deficit of these institutions worsens, hit by ever-increasing debts. “This is why we must sell everything that still belongs to the state, so there is nothing left to be robbed and we also escape debts!”

Just like that! This is the conception of our rulers – past, present and future. As they push forward with this idea, they throw the Romanian economy, as well as the whole public administration, in the clutch of terrible distress induced by chaotic privatisations that exclusively serve the interests of the so-called “strategic investors.” The recent case of Finnish company NOKIA is a telltale example. When it came to Romania, authorities granted this company huge incentives, including more than 100 hectares of land, access ways modernised by the Romanian state, and many other things a Romanian investor wouldn’t dare to dream of. After almost three years of profitable operations, NOKIA now leaves the country, despite having huge debts towards the Romanian state. Why so much indifference? Because, in their wish for “privatisation at any cost,” Romanian authorities “forget” to also stipulate the obligations of the respective company in the privatisation documents.

Almost all Romanian decision-makers have such memory problems. Let’s just remember how all the important industrial units of Romania have been privatised: the Heavy Machines Factory of Bucharest (IMGB), for instance, had state-of-the-art equipment, imported from Japan against hundreds of millions of dollars. After its chaotic, irresponsible privatisation with no obligation for the foreign investor, these machines were immediately relocated abroad, and the company thus privatised was robbed by “externalisation,” forcing thousands of employees to seek new jobs. Such chaotic acts of privatisation were repeated no just in the punctual case of companies, but at the scale of whole strategic industry sectors.

These government traumas also caused the suffering of other sectors, mainly agriculture and forestry. The debut of the present-day environment disaster coincides with the so-called retrocession of forest properties, decided following a “total agreement” between power and opposition, similar to that reached over the “minimalist state.” A major argument for this retrocession was the rule of law. But the very principles of the rule of law would have required that over 2 million hectares of forest (out of a total 4.5 million) stay under the authority of forest laws, meaning that they had to be used and exploited with two purposes in mind: economic benefits for the new owners, and the ecological role in favour of the whole national territory. Instead, they were wrongfully exempted from the authority of forest laws, then robbed and destroyed.

This robbery is amplified now, as winter holidays approach. Vile “businessmen” already started to cut fir trees, spruces and pines to sell them as Christmas trees. As prices often are too high, the dead trees gather in ever-higher piles that are eventually dumped as trash. As some local authorities asked legal measures against this theft, the robbers set ablaze over 3,000 hectares of forest to hide their traces.

Similar bad habits are encountered in agriculture. Under the same pressure of the “minimalist state,” massive areas of farmland that belonged to former state companies and research institutes were privatised with “strategic investors.” Some 100,000 hectares of arable land were acquired by persons coming from Western countries. Why only westerners? Because, in their countries of origin, a hectare of arable land costs about EUR 15,000, against just EUR 2,000 in Romania. The privatised land is left unused, waiting for a price hike that would bring fabulous profits to the pseudo-strategic investors. The only “crop” harvested from these lands is represented by the fires which devastate them for many days, favored by draught. The smoke of these blazes is also a hazard for motorists and pushes the toll of road accidents ever higher.

The progressive slogan “on our own,” launched in Romania as early as in the 19th century, referred to a large-scale programme of national development, with own resources. Today, it has turned into its opposite: “on our own” we are sinking deeper into a recurrent crisis.

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