Romania risks losing over EUR 1bln if Brussels decides to suspend payments. Premier holdsresponsible former PDL Labour ministers. They deny any wrongdoings.
Prime Minister Victor Ponta said major irregularities had been identified with respect to the implementation of the Human Resource Development Sector Operational Programme (POSDRU) in 2010 and 2011. Ponta told a joint press conference with the minister for European Affairs Ludovic Orban yesterday that Romania risks losing for good EUR 100 M in EU funding this year and EUR 1.1 bln next year, because of serious irregularities identified in the implementation of the programme. The loss of EU funds would result from the suspension of all payments in the framework of the programme. Ponta said he had notified the Anti-Fraud Department that deals with such situations, stating that the guilty persons should be held liable for the fraud, he called robbery. According to the premier, the Government will try to apply a set of actions in order to avoid losing EU funds. Ponta explained that, if the programme cannot be enforced before the end of the year, he would order a ‘radical’ measure to totally restructure the POSDRU Management Authority, including with the risk of re-accreditation. But a re-accreditation of the Management Authority would mean that POSDRU only becomes operation again in January 2014. The head of the Government presented a set of data received ‘via official channels’ from a POSDRU audit report, which reveals that, out of a total of EUR 2 bln Romania had available for the programme, only 6 per cent have been settled and 2,500 agreements have been signed, serious issues of project evaluation and control having been identified. The prime minister also said 350 unauthorised people had access to the IT system and people working for the programme were overpaid. For ‘four hours of archiving’, some of the staff got between EUR 3,500 and 10,000 a month. Another example of the irregularities identified by the authorities was that lifeguards have been trained not at the seaside, but in other regions of the country. Ponta claims the main responsibility for the situation with POSDRU belongs to the Labour Ministers in the PDL Governments. ‘We are beginning to clean the filth and robbery left behind by Botis, Lazaroiu and Sulfina Barbu. (…)”
“What happened with POSDRU under these three ministers is a torrent of frauds and illegal spending of money, for which reasons the EC is going to take the most radical measure possible against Romania, the suspension of funds’, Ponta said. According to the premier, the Minister of European Affairs, Leonard Orban, had reported to ex-PM Emil Boc the POSDRU irregularities and that he as well as ex-Labour Ministers Ioan Botis, Sebastian Lazaroiu and Sulfina Barbu had not done anything. ‘Orban has reported the situation. This is the big problem. Because Orban was the first person I asked. He showed me that he had always reported on the situation to PM Boc and the three ministers. Nothing ever happened, because they were in the same ring, all of them’, Ponta said. European Affairs Minister Leonard Orban said ‘there would probably be a recommendation to suspend payments’. ‘In the best case scenario we are talking about a few months of suspension of payments’, he said, adding that the payments might be put on hold ‘as soon as the letter arrives’ from the EC. Ever since May last year, Leonard Orban has been saying in several interviews that there were irregularities regarding the spending of EU funds. In February this year, Orban was telling The Money Channel that Romania was running the risk of seeing one of its EU-funded programmes suspended altogether. At the time, he noted that European Commission experts were much more vigilant after having discovered several irregularities with EU money within the Regional Operational Programme the previous year, the programme with the best national absorption rate. ‘I don’t want to name a programme, but we are threatened by the risk of suspension of one of the programmes. I hope we can avoid that’, Orban said.
DL ministers reject accusations
The former Democrat Liberal ministers and PDL members defend themselves, saying, against all evidence, that European Affairs minister didn’t inform them about the irregularities. On the other hand Sulfina Barbu admits irregularities have been identified but she failed to explain why they haven’t been corrected.Commenting on the accusations made by the premier, ex-Labour Minister said ‘Ponta was in a big error’ and had ‘unfounded information’, explaining that, during her term in office as a minister, the EC had disbursed EUR 190 M. Asked if she was aware of such irregularities as people cashing a monthly salary of EUR 10,000 for four hours of work per day, Barbu said ‘very big salaries had been identified and that she had ordered checks and corrections in order to make wages consistent with those paid to teachers.Another former Labour Minister, Sebastian Lazaroiu, said that, if PM Victor Ponta ‘was courageous’ and truly wanted to tidy things up at POSDRU, he would personally send him the list of Social Democrat companies involved in the ‘trans-party mafia’ of EU funds at the Labour Ministry. ‘If there are irregularities, I’m asking the prime minister to make them public, including names, from top to bottom. He should tell us what public people have taken money from there, but all of them’, PDL Secretary General Vasile Blaga said.