Saturday

23rd Mar 2019

Romania MPs too soft on corruption, says report

Romania's lack of legislative transparency and working code of conduct rules among its 568 lawmakers continue to feed into high perceptions of corruption.

A report published on Thursday (22 January) by the Council of Europe, the Strasbourg-based human rights watchdog, found the Romanian parliament had also made numerous attempts to undermine the country's independent national integrity agency and the national anti-corruption directorate.

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  • Romania's national integrity agency has, since 2008, opened 190 cases against Romanian lawmakers (Photo: Romanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

Romania's parliament was mulling 180 amendments on criminal legislation as of last summer. Many of those amendments, if adopted, "would undermine directly the anti-corruption system", notes the report.

The move follows a controversial but failed attempt in December 2013 to pass wide-reaching immunity laws that would exclude deputies and senators from provisions on bribery, trading in influence, conflicts of interest and so on.

Their immunity amendments were declared unconstitutional a month later. But such antics mean perceptions of corruption within Romania rank as among the highest in Europe.

A February 2014 Eurobarometer poll found that 93 percent of respondents believed corruption was widespread. And some 28 percent have been asked or expected to pay a bribe.

Behind closed doors

Last November, Romania's prime minister, Victor Ponta, resigned following a deadly night club fire in Bucharest.

At the time, he was, as Romania's first sitting PM, on trial for corruption and faced allegations of fraud, tax evasion and money laundering.

Public scrutiny of the legislative process is also difficult.

The report notes, for instance, that some plenary debates are held behind closed doors and that draft proposals are withheld from the public for up to a week.

Lawmakers are also in the habit "of the excessive use of emergency proceedings" to rush through texts at the cost of thorough consultation and debate.

It noted cases where an amendment was both introduced and adopted the same day.

Rules on revolving doors, where a deputy after his term lands a job with a company in the same area he legislated on, are also missing.

The national integrity agency, which has looked into some 190 cases of abuse since 2008, said 21 deputies and one senator had hired their own relatives, a breach of criminal and administrative rules.

The report also found over half million euros of "unjustified wealth" in three cases involving two deputies and one senator.

Twenty-four criminal investigations were launched against deputies between 2012 and 2014. Sixteen were sent to jail, mostly without probation.

Some improvements noted

Thorbjorn Jagland, the Council of Europe's secretary general, said that Romania had made some improvements against corruption but could do more.

"It now needs to develop a more robust and effective system of prevention which would address problematic situations even before they turn into a criminal conduct," he said in a statement.

He noted steps had been taken to investigate corruption and prosecute.

Other improvements include Romania's system for the declaration of income, assets and interests.

Supervised by the national integrity agency, the system oversees the declarations of deputies, judges and prosecutors.

The report notes the system has evolved over the years into a fully-fledged declaration system that extends to spouse and first degree relatives like children.

"It could inspire other countries," says the report.

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