This issue covers week Jan.4-10, 2021, plus some events from the previous week

The unexpected gift

The number of daily coronavirus cases dropped in the last two weeks and so did the test positivity rates, now ranging from 24% to 35%. The number of performed tests decreased as well. As of Sunday, 149,391 Moldovans got infected and 3139 of them died.

Romania’s announcement that it’s offering 200,000 vaccines to Moldova has elicited contradictory reactions in Chișinău. Before the recent resignation of Veronica Dumbrăveanu from the post of health minister, the Ministry said in a statement that “vector-based, protein-based or inactivated vaccines are preferable for our country compared with the mARN ones,” as the latter type requires to be stored at super-cool temperatures, which apparently is a problem for Moldova. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the first to be authorized and mass produced, is a mARN type.

President Maia Sandu says Moldova could have received the vaccines already if the necessary preparations were made, but MP Ruxanda Glavan (Șor Party), a former health minister, disagrees, criticizing Sandu’s administration instead for being slow to act.

Another ex-health minister, presidential adviser Ala Nemerenco, insists however that the Moldovan health care system is not ready because the authorities were counting on the Russian vaccine, while ignoring solutions from the EU and the U.S. As a matter of fact, the Socialist leader Igor Dodon has advised Moldovans to accept only the Russian vaccine Sputnik V, suggesting that the “Western analogs” are not to be trusted. We debunked this, and other falsehoods, in our Top 11 lies of 2020.

The limbo cabinet

After a meeting with Maia Sandu, Ion Chicu announced he would not be heading the cabinet as a caretaker prime minister. The president later designated Aurel Ciocoi, the foreign minister, to sit in instead.

Ion Chicu says he is leaving behind a full treasury and some 1.2 billion lei ($70M) above the revenue target. However, as Mold-Street observes, this is only compared to the September update of the target. Compared to the start-of-year target, the revenue falls behind by 5.5 billion lei ($319M).

Three ministers – Sergiu Pușcuță (Finance), Viorica Dumbrăveanu (Health Care and Social Protection) and Andrei Usatîi (Economy) – resigned together with Chicu. Maia Sandu however refused to formally authorize the resignation of the three ministers, saying the law does not regulate the procedure.

But Fadei Nagacevschi, former justice minister, warned the president that “forced labor” was a criminal offense, as the Socialist Party issued a statement condemning Maia Sandu for “forcing the PSRM ministers to stay in office, after being the one to seek their resignation”. (Note the “PSRM” qualifier attached to the three ministers, instead of the “technocratic” one preferred previously). Without waiting to see the end of this legal dispute, Viorica Dumbrăveanu accepted the job of adviser to Speaker Zinaida Greceanîi.

Meanwhile, the For Moldova group has offered to form a new cabinet. PAS said this would postpone early elections indefinitely and asked the Constitutional Court whether Parliament could legitimately self-dissolve.

The persecuted prosecution

Prosecutor General Alexandr Stoianoglo, together with other leaders of the prosecutorial community, published a statement accusing “healthy pro-European forces” in particular of staging “the greatest ever assault against the Prosecution Service.” It does not specify how exactly “some political actors” try to “undermine the independence” of prosecutors and what they mean by “increasingly insistent and brutal attempts,” but a separate statement from the president of the High Council of Prosecutors implies that the Supreme Security Council, a body headed by the president of Moldova, might have asked prosecutors to disclose information about the progress of some investigations. In our latest piece, we wonder if the prosecurors’ statement is a response to abuse or legitimate pressure from those who think progress is slow.

In a separate development, Viorel Morari, the suspended head of the Anticrorruption Prosecutor’s Office, presented evidence which appears to show that Stoianoglo had business ties with Veaceslav Platon, a controversial investor he helped out of prison. But Stoianoglo explained that his wife was registered as an associate of Platon in two Ukrainian companies without her knowledge, and this happened very recently, just as Morari learned about new charges brought against him for his past activities at the APO.

Platon and his lawyers concur and accuse Morari of acting together with the fugitive oligarch Vlad Plahotniuc in order to sabotage Stoianoglo’s bid to wrap up the bank fraud probe.

Meanwhile, JurnalTV published an alleged tapped phone call which is supposed to demonstrate Veaceslav Platon’s involvement in the Russian Laundromat. Platon says the recording is a fake and, even if it was true, its content demonstrates nothing. Alexandr Stoianoglo stated earlier that evidence was scarce in the Laundromat investigation and that the Russians were reluctant to cooperate. This prompted PDA lawmaker Inga Grigoriu, head of the inquiry commission looking into the Laundromat, to write a formal letter to the Russian authorities and ask if this was true.

Chișinău 2021

After a visit to Moscow alongside other top Socialists, Mayor Ion Ceban returned to the Chișinău City Hall and sped up the passage of the 2021 city budget, with a record deficit of 1.53 billion lei ($89M). With two days left until New Year, the budget was adopted in two minutes, without debates and amendments, by the vote of PSRM, Șor, PDM and PUN council members. The PAS, PPDA and PL council members staged a walkout, saying they received the final draft – which differed significantly from the publicly consulted version – just the night before the meeting and did not have time to examine it.

Most local taxes were increased, as PAS was able to thwart an attempt of halving the tobacco sales tax.

A new 10 lei tax was introduced for waste disposal, as the sanitation department got 10 new trucks. In 2021, municipal waste will continue to be disposed of at the Țînțăreni landfill. Chișinău will pay the village nearby a fee of 10 million lei and will cover the costs of some infrastructure projects.

A project to pilot e-ticketing on Chișinău buses and trolleybuses is expected to start in 2-3 months, as VISA and MasterCard will cover the costs of the pilot equipment.

Icebreaking diplomacy

Shortly after her inauguration, President Maia Sandu welcomed Klaus Iohannis in Chișinău. The Romanian president pledged 200,000 coronavirus vaccines, 6,000 tonnes of fuel for drought-hit farmers, €250,000 for media and civil society projects, medicines and equipment for the coronavirus response, assistance for the justice reform and fight against corruption, etc.

At that moment, Ion Chicu was still prime minister, but President Iohannis did not meet with him. So Chicu stated later that “it was a political visit, quite devoid of substance” and criticized Romania for “meddling” in the presidential campaign last fall.

Next week, President Sandu will fly to Kiev for her first foreign visit. She will be received by her counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky, PM Denis Shmikhal and Speaker Dmytro Razumkov.

Last week, Maia Sandu had a phone conversation with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, during which she stated that Moldova needed “an active foreign policy” with “concrete cooperation partnerships.”

More news, in one sentence

◾ The Socialists assembled their national convention to elect Igor Dodon as the party president; Ion Ceban used his lunch break to attend the event and dismiss rumors that he could found a new party.

◾ PDA lawmaker Alexandr Slusari wants prosecuors to investigate how the Moldovan government lost its stock in two excavation companies in Ukraine.

◾ Maia Sandu met with farmers to promise them she would seek external support for their problems, would ask the Ministry of Agriculture to obtain better loan conditions form banks for them, and would support the extension of irrigation programs.

◾ The Public Health Agency warns that the non-transparent adoption of amendments to the Tobacco Law can have serious consequences for public health, such as stimulation of tobacco consumption among young people.

◾ Corneliu Dudnic, a former PDM lawmaker, represented in court by a former head of the Integrity Agency, convinced Judge Oleg Melniciuc, who is prosecuted on illicit enrichment charges, to annul a decision by the Integrity Agency banning Dudnic from occupying public posts over a conflict of interest violation.

◾ Andrei Neguță, ex-ambassador to Russia was put under preventive detention as a suspect in a steroid smuggling scheme, but denies his involvement.

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