JUSTICE

US Department of State releases Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2015:Corruption remains a widespread problem in Romania

The US Department of State has released on Wednesday the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2015, that will be submitted to the U.S. Congress by Secretary Kerry.

Mandated by Congress, the Human Rights Reports –now in their 40th year–help inform U.S. government policy and foreign assistance. They are also a reference for other governments, international institutions, non-governmental organizations, legal professionals, scholars, interested citizens, and journalists.

The country report for Romania shows, among others,  that  government corruption remains a widespread problem .“While the law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials, including judges, sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Bribery was common in the public sector. Immunity from criminal prosecution enjoyed by existing and former cabinet members who were also members of parliament sometimes blocked investigations. According to World Bank indicators, corruption was a problem,” reads the document.

The report mentions that the National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA) continued to investigate corruption cases involving political, judicial, and administrative officials at a steady pace throughout the year. “The parliament often voted against lifting the immunity of its members for prosecution for corruption. Then prime minister Ponta was indicted in September, on charges of forgery, money laundering, and tax evasion. He resigned his position in November due to various factors. As of September 1, courts issued 197 final convictions to 661 defendants in cases investigated by the DNA, compared with 228 final convictions against 895 defendants in the same period of 2014. Among the defendants convicted were one minister, four members of parliament, and five judges, including one from the High Court of Cassation and Justice. As of September 1, courts ordered the forfeiture of 26.5 million euros ($29.2 million) as a result of DNA cases. The courts acquitted 64 defendants through September 1. Verdicts in corruption offenses were often inconsistent, with sentences varying widely for similar offenses. Enforcement of court procedures lagged due to procedural problems, especially in regards to asset forfeiture”.

In addition, conflicts of interest, disrespect for standards of ethical conduct, and improbity in public office in general remained problems in all three branches of government, the Department of State warns in its report on Romania.

“ Corruption was widespread in public procurement. Bribery was common in the public sector, especially in health care. Individual executive agencies were slow in enforcing sanctions, and agencies’ own inspection bodies were generally inactive. Through September 21, the DNA sent to parliament 10 requests for pretrial detention, including for six members of parliament and one Constitutional Court judge. Parliament approved seven requests and denied two, while one member resigned from parliament. The DNA asked parliament to lift immunity eight times to investigate current and former members, including the then sitting prime minster. The parliament approved six requests and denied two, including the one involving the sitting prime minister”.

The country report for Romania mentions the October 30 tragedy, when a fire erupted during a music concert in the Colectiv nightclub in Bucharest, killing 63 persons and injuring 151. “Pyrotechnics during the performance ignited polyurethane soundproofing foam covering parts of the building’s internal structure. “Press reported a delayed and confused emergency service response. Protests began in Bucharest on November 3, with more than 30,000 participants blaming the fire on widespread corruption and some carrying banners saying, “Corruption kills.” Demonstrators called for the resignation of Prime Minister Victor Ponta, Interior Minister Gabriel Oprea, and Bucharest Sector Mayor Cristian Popescu Piedone, who was responsible for granting an operating license to the club without a fire department permit. The Ponta government resigned on November 4. Despite the resignation protests continued in Bucharest and other cities, gradually declining in numbers through November 8”.

Regarding the presidential elections held in November 2014, the document mentions some irregularities, particularly because the government amended the electoral law to allow citizens to cast votes outside their place of residence. “Some electoral observers alleged the governing party used this loophole to increase votes artificially in some remote villages. Limited polling stations for citizens living outside the country were a major problem. There were numerous reports of members of the Romanian diaspora waiting in long lines to vote at embassies in capitals across Europe and of thousands of persons being unable to vote before polls closed. The reports triggered nationwide protests”, reads the country report for Romania.

The cited source also shows that media outlets controlled by politicians Dan Voiculescu (the founder of the Conservative Party, who was in prison for corruption and under investigation for blackmail) and Sebastian Ghita (a member of the Social Democratic Party who was under investigation for corruption) repeatedly attacked journalists who reported on their businesses or on the government’s activities against them. “The two politicians owned television and radio stations that hosted most of the talk shows featuring members of the governing coalition,” the document reads.

In addition, the quoted source underlines that news and editorial tone of these outlets frequently reflected the views of the owners. “There were also allegations that owners suppressed stories at odds with their interests or threatened the authors of such stories. During the year politicians and citizens sometimes insulted or harassed journalists. Authorities failed to resolve complaints made by journalists”.

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