The Victor Ponta Government obtained the Parliament’s vote of investiture yesterday evening. According to official vote count, the Ponta Government obtained 284 votes in favour, 92 against.The Ponta Government was scheduled to take part in a swearing-in ceremony at the Presidential Palace later last evening. According to the analysts, the main problem the new government will face is that of restoring public sector salaries to their 2010 levels and restituting the sums that were illegally collected from pensioners, as the economy is passing through statistical recession.The Premier-designate presented in Parliament his governing programme and the list of government members, before the vote of investiture: “I am nervous because I’m convinced that today we can start a fundamental change for Romania’s fate. I’m the first person designated Prime Minister that came of age after 1989.” Ponta thanked USL, UNPR and the group of ethnic minorities for their support, pointing out that there is finally a legitimate majority in Parliament. Ponta admitted that the governing programme is meant for a short period of six months, however he did not hide USL’s plan of winning this autumn’s elections and a four-year term in office. “I will ask for the Parliament’s vote today and I will respect it irrespective of what it is,” he said. Ponta pointed out that he maintained the current government structure but after the Parliamentary elections he will propose a more flexible and a less buaucratic structure, explaining in what concerns the ministers that he opted for experienced, upright and correct persons. The Premier-designate pointed out that he will promote a change in attitude, direction and people, where called for, underlining that if any ministers represent a vulnerability for the entire government he will not hesitate to ask them to leave. According to Ponta, the government’s top priority will be to observe the laws, but also to address the measures that created social inequities, to protect natural resources, arguing that “respecting the commitments taken before international institutions should not come at the expense of the commitments taken before the population.” “The government I will lead will be led from the Victoria Palace alone, not from the Presidential Palace or from any other headquarters. The government will respond in front of Parliament every week,” he stated. Punctually, Ponta said the Ministry of Economy would have the objective of renegotiating and stopping agreements with the ‘smart guys’ in energy about which, he says, the former administration ‘spoke a lot, but did nothing’. At the same time, he promised to advocate the further development of relations with R. of Moldova, with Romanian nationals based abroad and with other European states. ‘I hope that, now that France has elected another president, Romania’s voice will be more easily heard.’ The prime minister-designate accused the former Ungureanu Government of spending EUR 170 M to finance specific campaigns in the upcoming local election. ‘We will try to retrieve the money and use it where it is badly needed, on restoring pensions and salaries,’ he said, announcing that the Cabinet Meeting due today would discuss a normative act regulating the restitution of illegally retained health insurance from retired people, promising to apologise to them for the pain they endured. Ponta also said state institutions would be given 30 days to audit their financial situation and promised that the responsible people would be brought to justice should any irregularity be identified.The Senate Speaker, the Democrat Liberal Vasile Blaga, blamed Ponta for allying with UNPR and of using exactly what it incriminated, namely political migration. ‘Mr. Prime Minister-designate, you said you were ready to amend the electoral law and even the Constitution. After only two days, you dropped two proposals because the people did not like the ministers you had proposed. Unfortunately, in the ruling programme you have published there are four other names that do not belong there. Just count how many laws you want to change in the next six months and you will see how serious you are about the governance,’ Blaga said. UDMR leader Kelemen Hunor complained that the Ponta Government had not included any reference to minorities in its programme. ‘I am holding in my hand the first ruling programme of the last 22 years that contains not a single sentence on the national minorities. To us, Hungarians in Romania, the message of the future Government is extremely clear: minorities do not count,’ said the UDMR leader.
Marathon hearings of ministers before specialised committees
Before the Parliament’s vote, the ministers-designate were heard by the specialised committees and were all vetted. After a record hearing lasting over two and a half hours, Florin Georgescu received a positive opinion on filling the position as Minister of Finance. He spoke on transparency in the management of public funds, fight on tax evasion as well as ‘abrogation of policies allowing smart guys to become state annuitants and beneficiaries by defrauding tax-payers’ money’. The proposed Economy Minister, Daniel Chitoiu, was also approved by the specialised Parliament committee, that he warned about the far too small taxes and royalties in the natural gas field, noting that he would negotiate with OMV Petrom a rise before 2014, otherwise the plan being to introduce ‘a tax on exceptional revenue’. Sitting Minister of European Affairs Leonard Orban received the unanimous endorsement of the combined Committees on European Affairs for continuing as the head of the ministry in the new Ponta Cabinet. He said the number one priority of his term would still be an absorption rate that would prevent disengagements of European funds for Romania, as well as contracting rate of no less than 90 per cent by the end of the year. However, Orban said ‘the abrogation of the MCV this summer is virtually impossible’, despite the declared intention of the Bucharest authorities to have the mechanism removed. Titus Corlatean, vetted as in-coming Minister of Justice, said the priorities of his term were the adoption and implementation of the new codes and the fight against corruption, setting the 2012 as the deadline for the entry into force of the Code of Civil Procedure. Ovidiu Silaghi, approved to fill the position as Minister of Transport and Infrastructure, said during the hearing that ‘TAROM would qualify to be sold in totality and CFR Marfa only in part.’Proposed Communications Minister Dan Nica said the Government’s intention was to come up this year with an investor willing to put money into the Romanian Post. At the same time, Nica announced 300 lay-offs among non-operating Post staff and a cut of the number of directors from the current ten to one, explaining that they have the biggest salaries.Andrei Marga also received a positive opinion as Foreign Minister, saying that Romania should leave behind the phase of a ‘uninominal’ foreign policy, because public and parliamentary consensus are also required. He also warned about the insufficient use of the partnership with the USA as well as about our stagnant relations with Russia and China. The Foreign Minister-designate also denounced the fact that positions in Romanian embassies are filled not by competition, but by direct appointment and that jobs relevant to economic and scientific cooperation had been amputated.In-coming Interior Minister Ioan Rus said, before obtaining the relevant committee’s green-light, that he did not plan on operating any massive restructuring, denouncing the fact that the local police workers are more electoral agents for the local mayor than law-enforcers. Vasile Cepoi was also sanctioned as new Health Minister. He explained that the urgency of his term was to unlock vacancies in the healthcare system and that he would look into reopening some of the hospitals. He promised to alleviate the existing tension between the Ministry and pharmaceutical companies. Ioan Mang, approved as the head of the Education Ministry, wants to organise national exams in optimal conditions, depoliticise the system of education and re-introduce the collective bargaining agreement in the system. The restoration of salaries in the public sector, returning to retired people the illegally collected health insurance subscription and the improvement of European funds are the priorities of the nominated Labour Minister, the Liberal Mariana Campeanu. The in-coming Environment Minister, Rovana Plumb, plans to transfer beaches under the management of local authorities
UDMR and PDL vowed to vote against government
Despite yesterday’s talks between Premier-designate Victor Ponta and the leadership of UDMR, the Hungarian MPs will not vote for the new government.“We will be in the room, we will vote and we will vote against,” UDMR President Kelemen Hunor stated after the meeting. Nevertheless, he explained that UDMR will engage in constructive opposition. On the other hand, he pointed out that during the talks Premier-designate Victor Ponta did not ask for support from UDMR. “We didn’t offer this kind of support, we didn’t initiate any agreement and I believe the important thing is for the rights won in the last 22 years to be upheld,” Kelemen added. In his turn, Ponta stated that he did not ask UDMR to vote for the government, adding that the issue of signing an agreement on Parliamentary cooperation, on support for the government or on UDMR entering the government is out of the question. “Things are very clear for both sides: UDMR entering the government is out of the question. They will be in the opposition, we will be in office,” Ponta said. However, Ponta added that in the long run there will be talks concerning minority rights. The Premier-designate stated that USL took the commitment of adopting the national minorities’ law during this sitting, but without the provision that concerns cultural autonomy. He added that his government will not promote policies against national minorities and that UDMR will be the legal representative of the Hungarian minority and a partner in dialogue. According to Ponta, one of the points of disagreement at this point concerns the modification of the voting system, UDMR backing the proportional system. “At least at this moment we will not reach an agreement because we are voting tomorrow (Tuesday – editor’s note) in the Senate and then in the Chamber the modification of the current law and the one who is first in an electoral college will win a seat in Parliament,” Ponta said. Also yesterday, PDL President Emil Boc reiterated that the Democrat-Liberals will be present at the vote of investiture but will vote against the government, arguing that there are several cases of incompatibility.