Economics / Politics

Romanian “honest brokerage” out of altruism

Corruption is a strongly embedded scourge within Romanian bureaucratic corridors. Dadiana Chiran analyses the roots of the phenomenon and its traumatic effects for the country’s prominent politicians .

In conformity with Romanian humour, the Central Arrest and Detention Center no.1 in Bucharest is now called the “lordly cellar”. This is a token paid to the high class politicians and businessmen, who have crossed its threshold, due to the anti-corruption campaign. Many of those now paying the dividends of “Sultanism” consider the judicial acts passed against them either a form of profound injustice, political “instrumentalisation”, or simply an error.

For Radu Mazare, the former Social-democrat mayor of Constanta (one of the economic poles of Romania and the largest port-city in Romania), the word ‘controversial’ hardly covers it all. The mayor of Constanta was generously bestowed with the rare gift of entertainment. His various talents have paved its way to the city hall, sealing the seat for over 15 years. His success among his voters was so evident, to the extent where it allowedhim to crush his adversaries with over 51% from the first voting pole in all but one of his elections. In November 2011, the Romanian male population has every right to feel envious: the cover of Playboy featured the ubiquitous Mr Mazare, surrounded by beautiful women, puffing his customary cigar, the opulence of which can be matched by Sultans only. The head title of that Playboy edition was “I don’t pay, I concur.” As it turns out, that statement was not only genuinely sincere but also overzealous because he was never a payer indeed, he was the owner of a $9,000,000 bribe (according to the Romanian National Anticorruption Directorate). Today in arrest, Mr Mazare seems to have crossed the Rubicon. He still pleads innocent accusing the judicial system of politicisation.

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The former Minister of Finance under Victor Ponta’s govern, Darius Valcov, had the dutiful task of structuring a new Fiscal Code to unburden the Romanian economy of the weighty 24% VAT tax. Before he could finish his quest, he was charged and arrested by the National Anticorruption Directorate for “manoeuvring financial operations incompatible with its function” during his tenure as mayor. To put it bluntly, Mr Valcov received a bribe in a cemetery (which is apparently considered a safe place for such circumstances), amounting to $90,000, 1,300,000 RON, tree gold ingots, and two paintings (Renau and Cocteau), all in order to favour a businessman in public procedure auctioning. He is now arrested, pending final sentence.

Another “honest” broker is Mr Marian Vangelie, a very colourful character, commonly famous for his absolute lack of grammar knowledge and the pompous New Year’s Eve parties organised by him during his four tenures. Mr Vanghelie has been recently dethroned as the mayor of the 5th district of Bucharest after 15 years, being charged with bribe-taking, money laundry, and abuse of office. The charges against him indicate that the former mayor had a commission of 20% of the value of the public utility contracts between the city hall and various companies. He sustains that he is innocent and that he “cannot admit that he ever took any money under the title of bribery”. Mr Vanghelie is now arrested too, although he is ‘innocent’.

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The list can continue but the examples don’t differ substantially between each other. According to a recent study by VU Amsterdam University and the University of Bucharest, 316 inmates were imprisoned for high-level corruption’ although many acknowledge the deeds for which they were prosecuted and sentenced, few of them accepted their status as corrupt figures. In seeking to provide answers regarding the why’s of corruption, the study is not only relevant in the context of the corruption phenomenon per se. Its value lies in the intrinsic analysis concerning the nature of the society nurturing the phenomenon. After all, corruption is not a talent given at birth by the fairy godmother and corrupt politicians are not made of thin air. The social profiling of Romanians by Prof. Daniel David shows that the Romanian people generally have a low dosage of civic spirit. Cccording to his study, there is a negative gap between how Romanians “think they are” and “how they really are”. The academic circle remained silent and no substantial critique was addressed to the study, perhaps because its results might be accurate. While the passivity of random citizens cannot be blamed for supporting the overall corruption phenomenon, it doesn’t serve them well in the process of preventing it either.

Perhaps more than any other former communist country, Romania has been a good cow to milk over the transition years: it is quite a big business market, and in 1990 had no external debt but very good assets to snatch from the state patrimony as well as substantial natural resources. Despite the high rate of poorness and general public opinion according to which corruption is about snatching preposterous amounts of money in a blink of an eye for purely hedonic purposes, the same study reveals that in Romania corruption is not primarily a result of the thirst for higher financial benefits. Corruption is not tied to poorness but to the lack of integrity and, to a certain degree, although it may seem against nature, to altruism. “Most of the Romanians convicted for corruption in the past years are middle-aged men, married with children. Most of them don’t deny the facts or the acts they have been convicted for, but deny that they have done anything wrong”. The moral vacuum can be filled as long as it is generally accepted and futile explanations are found: “everybody does it: it is a national sport”, “somebody asked for my help and I couldn’t say no”, “I had to do it because otherwise I would have lost my job”, “my boss told me to, I couldn’t disobey”, “it is part of the system”, or “I had no idea it was illegal”. Some respondents even said that they received no training on what corruption is and how not to be corrupt, although most of them had good academic education (masters or even PhD’s), so one may wonder how come such people can’t distinguish the ethical from the unethical.

In several articles and TV shows, the contemporary corruption in Romania (valid perhaps for Eastern Europe in general) is depicted as a legacy of the communist regime: receiving bribes was an haute couture practice among the men of the communist system and stealing was also an accepted common practice as long as it was from the state, because under the Marxist ideology everything belonged to everyone. Although a highly arguable explanation, even if hold true, 67.4% of Romanians found guilty of corruption nowadays were between the age of 5 and 25 in 1989; given that most had university studies, they were all still in school when democracy and market economy came to power.

The departments of philosophy and ethics in the big universities are struggling to survive, as nobody seems to be interested in these occupations, deprived of any added value in the market economy and political sphere. It is somewhat funny, because re-moralisation might be the factor we need most, namely:

– trainings on how and why not to be corrupt;

– manuals on how to develop civic spirit in ten simple steps;

– guides on how to have a “bribeless” professional career;

– or even best-sellers on why having moral values is attracting to the other sex.

There is neither a vaccine to cure the temptation to be corrupt nor an incubator to grow some moral values – but it shouldn’t be a Hobson’s choice either.

Dadiana Chiran

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One thought on “Romanian “honest brokerage” out of altruism

  1. Pingback: Romanian “honest brokerage” out of altruism | dadianachiran

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