Development / Economics / Politics

Romania Is Becoming More Transparent Than a Fine Sieve: A Sudden Appetite for a Tech Extreme Makeover

Being a more detailed continuation of Reuters’ recent article “Romania makes all state finances public to deter graft”, Dadiana Chiran’s analysis shows that in the context of regular civic protest, political instability and the forthcoming elections, Romanian institutions had to reshape their approach to PR,, mainly using its singular advantage at the gates of development: the IT sector. Although not intrinsically  characterized by a high level of communication, the Romanian administrative apparatus has experienced unprecedented levels of transparency, especially at a central level, the latest platform for revenue and spending data of state institutions being only the last in a long series of transparency measures.

Romania is, by its unique nature, a country of the most astonishing paradoxes. In some senses it can be a true Galahad, pure in thought and deed, but from the other side appear like a misshapen troll.  For instance, a recent tweet by Bernie Sanders provoked a spring of satisfaction in Romania. For it is rather unusual for unknown Romanian cities like Ploiesti or Galati to compete with Singapore, Austin TX or Tokyo for the upper positions in the

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Source: Romanian Insider

ranking of the fastest and cheapest internet broadband services[1]. Especially since Romania has the highest rates of non-users in the EU, with approx. 50% of its population having no access to the Internet.[2]

And yet, the rather regular civil protests or perhaps the increased activity of the civil society have given a notable lesson to the public policy shapers: the importance of keeping the gun powder dry, in this case by  increasing the attractiveness, inter-communication and transparency of public institutions as to increase long lost public trust. Being among the few with a robust ITC service market and abundant professional  human resources and properly observing the influence of social media and the internet impact on the image of the state, this time it seems that Romania has almost got it right.

Although the public trust decline in the EU is not reflected only by a feeble economic performance, the Romanian case suggests that public trust is one commandment with two outspoken premises and two tacit presumptions. The roadmap to success in increasing public trust is relatively simple: the two outspoken premises are i) transparency of the public sector activity and ii) accountability for the public actions, namely the two variables that inflict on the public integrity and good governance as to generate public trust in the governing bodies, may them be local or central. The two tacit presumptions are that corruption and favoritism ought to be quenched, in so far as possible and on a continuous basis.

And yet, if political actors yearn for public trust because it legitimizes their governance and ensures their position in power, and if citizens pine for a trustful political class that will represent their interests with efficiency and adeptness, where is the rupture between the citizens’ demands and the governance’s’ response?   One answer is perhaps that citizens were demanding results in areas in which the political evzone was not ready to deliver solutions, until recently.

In a nutshell, the Romanian state budget has been for a long time a “good cow to milk” in terms of public finance drain, but recently the dimensions of the phenomenon struck a delicate cord in the Romanian collective civic reaction triggering a powerful dislike towards the political and ruling class to the extent that anything associated with the word “politics” automatically receives a pejorative connotation.  According to the National Agency for Fiscal Administration (NAFA) press release the budget loss to recover from the corruption cases administered by the National Anticorruption Directorate (NAD) in 2014  was 150 million EUR, while in 2015 according to the NAD’s yearly report  the recoverable amount is approximately 200 million EUR.  The same report states that public acquisition sector is the most parasitized and prone to private-pocketing money drain. Victor Giosan, state councilor in the acting government, observed during the conference “2016, the decisive year for the public integrity reform in Romania” that since 2007 the money distribution was generally regulated by the good old ad-hoc rule rather than the standard formula and that there is no permanent internal spending review that could positively influence the budgeting process.

Under these conditions, it will not strike as a surprise that the Public Integrity and Trust in Europe 2015 report released by the European Research Center for Anti-corruption and State-building revealed that 91% of Romanians believe that corruption is widespread in Romania while the trust in national Parliament (17%), government (28%) and political parties (14%) outline a shuttered image of the trust in the national central governance. This phenomenon partially explains the enhanced and persistent trust of Romanians in the EU institution, a tide against the mainstream trend of all the other CEE countries.

In a nutshell, the public sector data in Romania has experienced a transparency boom either because the zealous technocratic government acting as transitory  steering committee suddenly realized the immense  business impact when revealing public sector data (the “total direct and indirect economic gains from easier public sector information re-use across the whole European Union economy amounts to 140 billion annually[1]) or due to the eve of the local and general elections (May and November 2016 respectively) that will arrange the political chess table for another cycle. During electoral campaigns, the Romanian society is not a follow a one-track, docile line of voting and more than once it was proved that there are no political allegions or ideologies to follow. The latterst political elections were defined by a facebook campaign in the last day of the second round.

As tokens of the newly discovered openness of the state institutions, a number of positive changes have occurred, in terms of access to public data and transparency in the bureaucratic processes Although there are several other that deserve attention as well, last week, Reuters headlined referring to one of the data sets recently made available: “Romania makes all state finances public to deter graft”. As Reuters aptly noted, the platform 1) transparenta-bugetara.gov.ro makes available monthly budget execution data for the country’s roughly 17,720 state institutions. The platform is part of the FOREXEBUG project that should have been implemented between 16 January 2012 – 15 July 2014. In spite of the delay its launch of the platform is indeed welcomed. The project was development on the framework of the Memorandum of

Understanding 2009[2] when Romania committed itself to make structural reforms initiated by the IMF and the European Commission.

The Foundation and platform 2) Rolii.ro is one of the rare public private partnerships in the field, having as founding members: the Superior Council of Magistracy, the National Institute of Magistracy, the National Union of Public Notaries, the Romanian Notarial Institute, the National Association of Romanian Bars, National Institute for Lawyers’ Professional Development and Adrian Toni Neacsu (lawyer and initiator of several law information portals). In December 2015 the portal Rolii.ro was launched with the aim of supporting, developing and promoting free access to legal information public by creating appropriate framework necessary for legal information resulting from the work of public authorities and institutions can be made available to every citizen free of charge in electronic form, especially via Internet. The portal hosts approximately 2.2 million anonymized court decisions from 2013-2015 and in the forthcoming period up to 20 million court decisions will be furthered published. The portal has a double edge effect: practical for the lawyers, prosecutors and judges that can access previous courts ruling to optimize their activity and therapeutic for the public that perceives the judicial system as more transparent and open.

The platform 3) Onoratainstanta.ro is the result of a project implemented in partnership with one of the most active civil society organization in the field of good governance and public policy. The platform gathers statistical data from the Ministry of Justice, the Romanian Statistical Institute, the Superior Council of Magistracy as well as other independent sources to calculate performance indexes (2014 and 2015) for 466 courts in Romania.[3] The aim of the initiative is to “develop a methodology for assessing the predictability of justice based on quantitative and qualitative indicators and an analysis of the relevance of the data thus obtained for the formulation of public policies in the field. The platform also seeks to contribute to enhancing the transparency of justice, bringing their contribution and thus increase citizens’ confidence in the justice system as a whole.”

3) Maisimplu.gov.ro  is a governmental initiative fostered by the Chancellery of the Prime Minister and the newly formed Ministry for Public Consultation and Dialogue Civic that aims at an efficient de-bureaucratization of the public administration by asking the public to share their experiences publicly, provide solutions  and/or rank the proposals according to importance and efficiency. The platform hosts in present 2712 proposals that will simplify the administrative procedures from the citizen’s perspective.

Perhaps the most important component of open data in Romania, the platform 4) data.gov.ro hosts 392 sets of raw statistical data sets from 64 institutions. The platform was launched in October 2013 is applying European Open Data Initiative – making public information accessible, reusable and redistributable freely without considering restrictions on the type of rights (copyright), patents or other mechanisms of control (open date). Although it is the first token of transparency, the platform has shown various mischiefs along the years due to its opacity, errors and vexing rigidness. In comparative terms, its UK equivalent (data.gov.uk) is much more user-friendly and has 388 attached applications that facilitate the access of citizens to the most variate public information and statistics –  from those relating to the management of public toilets (Isle of Wight Council – Public Toilets Data) to tools which identify each lot of property in order to facilitate registration and access to real estate information (Land Registry INSPIRE Index polygons) or GIST (Interrogating government spending Tool) a tool which facilitates access to data concerning government expenses.

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February 24th, Romanian Valentine’s Day: “For Valentine’s Day, the girls used to put basil under their pillows for their beloved ones. Nowadays, we investigate in a more diversified way. Patria a priori – Romanian Secret Services

Excepting these four examples, an overall openness have been registered in various other sectors concerning  public data and public communication: the Romanian Statistical Institutes recently banned all fees for their publications in electronic format, most of the public bodies have structured efficient and lovely social media campaigns to approach  the public in a pleasant manner. Therefore, although the road to transparency and integrity is long and never-ending, it seems to be paved with good intentions. Although there are a number of successful initiates that have shown their relevance and usefulness in optimizing the public administration  processes and the transparency requirements in the Index of Integrity Public (IPP), Romania is far from the average of the European Union (EU-28) regarding public integrity (or ability to control corruption), achieving in 2014 a score of 2, 60. This is less than half the average EU-28 score (5.71) and more than three times lower than that of countries at the top: Finland (8.88), the Netherlands (8.66) and Denmark (8.49). However, Romania is characterized by the fact that it registered an improvement in this score (0.77) compared to 2012 (1.83).[4]

rom1

 

March 1st – “They are no longer under cover” Patria a priori – Romanian Secret Services

 

As final remarks regarding the IT&C upgrade and yet another example that testifies a change of paradigm in Romanian context, I would like to bring to the table the positive social media communication of three state bodies, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Romanian Secret Services.  Perhaps as legacy of the sober and etatist attitute of the the rom3Romanian governing institutions in the previous regimes (monarchy and socialist republic),  the post-communist state remained rigid and  sober in relationship to the citizens. And yet, nowadays the Romanian Secret Services’s FB page recommends, on a weekly basis, conspiracy and spy novels and movies (the last being The Spy Who Loved by Claire Mullay) and sends customised greeting that perhaps, for the first time, expresses soft-skilled humor that can only be produced by the “Intelligence” unit, while the Ministry of Internal Affairs reinvents traditions as to highline that alcohol is not tolerated while driving inspite of the traditional celebration:

“Our national tradition upholds that to celebrate the holy day of  Mucenici 44 glasses of wine must be drunk. Yet, our colleagues from the Road Patrol informed us that according to their own tradition, the 44 glasses may also do wonders, one of them being the dissapearance of the driving licence for a period of  1 to 3 months.” 

[1] The GovLab Index: Open Data, (Updated and Expanded). Available at http://thegovlab.org/govlab-index-open-data-updated/ Last accessed March 12, 2016

[2] Memorandum of Understanding between THE European Community and Romania (20 June 2009). Available at http://ec.europa.eu/economy_finance/publications/publication15409_en.pdf Last accessed March 12, 2016

[3] Onorata Instanta – Performance index. Available at http://www.onoratainstanta.ro/indicele-de-performanta.html . Last accessed  March 12, 2016.

[4] Mungiu-Pippidi et al. (2015), Public Integrity and Trust in Europe, European Research Centre for Anti-Corruption and State-Building, Hertie School of Governance, Available at http://www.romaniacurata.ro/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Public-integrity-and-trust-in-Europe-web.pdf. Last accessed March 12, 2016.

 

 

 

[1] Romania has 9 of the world’s top 15 cities with fastest broadband internet, available at http://www.romania-insider.com/broadband-internet-romania/147305/. Last accessed March 12, 2016.

[2] Digital Agenda Scoreboard 2012. Available at https://ec.europa.eu/digital-single-market/sites/digital-agenda/files/scoreboard_life_online.pdf and Internet World Stats available at  http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats4.htm Last accessed March 12, 2016

 

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