Return of the candidates

Chișinău finally got to see a debate between mayoral hopefuls Andrei Năstase and Ion Ceban and it’s fair to say it was quite a disappointment. The debate quickly turned into a war of words. Năstase blamed Ceban for helping Plahotniuc cancel the result of the previous elections. He also accused the Socialists of taking bribes to allow illegal buildings and of voting for illegal sales of municipal land in the City Council. In turn, Ceban said Năstase was spreading lies as means to cover his incompetence and lack of a program. The Socialist also shared some behind-the-scenes information, claiming that acting Prosecutor General Dumitru Robu was Năstase’s nomination, which the latter fervently denied.

Meanwhile, acting mayor Adrian Talmaci suggested that a trolleybus ticket should cost 5 lei (presently 2 lei) and a bus ticket 8 lei (presently 5 lei). He says that current prices don’t reflect the real cost of a trip and increased fares are needed to modernize municipal public transport. Ion Ceban spoke out against the idea, invoking the high number of socially vulnerable people in Chișinău who would not be able to afford such expensive transportation. Andrei Năstase was more vague in his answer, saying that he will focus on increasing the comfort and quality of transportation, as well as expanding the fleet. We looked into the issue, analyzed a Court of Audits report and suggested alternative solutions in our latest piece: ”A Fare Amount: How Much Should Public Transport Cost in Chisinau?”

Outside Chișinău, the Democrats came out on top with 191 mayors after totaling the results of the first round of elections, followed by PSRM with 124 and ACUM with 82. Other parties have less than 30 mayors each. Democrats Vladimir Cebotari and Pavel Filip said they could have gotten an even better results if the ruling PSRM-ACUM alliance hadn’t blackmailed PDM mayors to switch sides. Socialist MP Vasile Bolea responded that this was a tactic used by the Democrats themselves while in power and not one employed by the current ruling parties. Prime Minister Maia Sandu replied in a similar vein, adding that many candidates actually wanted to run on ACUM’s behalf but the bloc accepted only those with an irreproachable past and reputation.

Electoral Sunshine of the Presidential Mind

President Igor Dodon declared himself satisfied with how the first round of local elections went, claiming these were the first truly free and spotless elections in Moldova. He suggested ACUM and PSRM could replicate their parliamentary alliance in local councils as well. One might wonder if the president maintained his opinion after watching the Năstase-Ceban debate.

In the same interview, Igor Dodon said he might demand some Cabinet reshuffling after the elections because some ministers seem too lazy to him. This isn’t the first warning of this kind and Prime Minister Maia Sandu previously responded that the president should assess his own work and results before criticizing the ministers. Sandu insisted no member of the Cabinet would resign.

Finally, Dodon also weighed in on the selection of a new Prosecutor General. Only 16 out of the 20 applicants have been registered and civil society activist Ștefan Gligor has got an online campaign in his support. President Dodon took a thinly veiled dig at Gligor, saying that the Prosecutor General must be a strong professional and not ”a star raised in TV studios”.

Moldovans of the Carribean

Iurie Reniță, one of ACUM’s rebel MPs who might well be half out of the bloc, published a report of the National Anticorruption Center, which shows that a Bahamas-based company transferred 33 milion lei to Moldova, where the money was loaned with zero interest to people close to PSRM and then invested in Dodon’s successful 2016 presidential campaign. The report mostly repeats the information from a previous RISE Moldova journalistic investigation. RISE was sued for defamation and lost in domestic courts, but appealed the case at the ECHR, where the case is pending examination.

The Socialists’ party finances have been a subject of controversy on a couple of other occasions. After failed negotiations with PSRM in June, the Democrats released a video of Dodon telling Vlad Plahotniuc that the Socialists received $1 million from Russia every month. More recently, PSRM declared to electoral authorities only meager expenses for their numerous billboards. Ion Ceban explained that the sum was so small because the party was paying for the billboards ”in installments”. Now, with the CNA report in had, MP Iurie Reniță asked the acting Prosecutor General to look into the PSRM accounts.

Yesterday, the head of the Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office, Viorel Morari claimed he is in possession of 12 volumes of materials on the Socialists' alleged illegal financing from Russia and that he is eager to look into the issue. Previously prosecutors decided against a criminal investigation on the issue, but Morari wants to ”make sure” that no mistake was made.

Among the good news for the Socialists is that their affiliated TV channel Accent got the greenlight to rebroadcast the most popular Russian TV channel Pervyi Kanal (Channel One), which was previously rebroadcast by the Democrats’ Prime. Accent will subsequently rebrand as ”Primul în Moldova” (The First in Moldova).

Yawn of Justice

The General Assembly of Judges was supposed to meet again this week to appoint new members on the High Council of Judges (CSM), but didn’t have a quorum. The previous meeting of the Assembly was quite controversial, when the judges sacked their representatives in CSM. Prime Minister Sandu, Justice Minister Olesea Stamate and CSM chairman Dorel Musteața all said that the decisions were void and illegal because the Assembly didn’t have a quorum at the time of voting. They also said this week’s attempted meeting of the Assembly was illegal as well.

While some voices criticize the government for interfering in the judiciary’s internal matters, others say the Assembly was an attempt by corrupt judges to block CSM’s activity and thus paralyze the justice reform and any effort to cleanse the system. One of the masterminds of this plan may well be Ion Druță, former head of the Supreme Justice Court, who is under investigation for his unjustified riches. Prosecutors want to charge him with interfering with other judges’ decisions, but they need the approval of CSM first. The Council managed to have quorum only on its third attempt and greenlighted the prosecutors’ investigation. Combined with the failed Assembly, one might say the tide has turned against the old guard in the judiciary.

At the last CSM meeting, Justice Minister Olesea Stamate announced the government would take into consideration most of the Venice Commission’s recommendations regarding the justice reform. Stamate said the list of judiciary officials to be vetted will be expanded to include the judges from Courts of Appeals, as well as anticorruption prosecutors and those from the Prosecutor’s Office for Combating Organized Crime and Special Cases. The minister also announced a special college of judges will be created to examine the appeals of judges who fail the vetting.

The grind of change

The government is slowly continuing to change the leadership of various public agencies, however it seems hard to find the right people for the task. The selection contests for the chairs of the National Agency for Settlement of Claims and the National Energy Regulatory Agency will be repeated. In the first case, only one person applied. In the second, two people applied, but one failed to pass the integrity test. Things are better at the Customs Service, where two candidates, Natalia Calenic and Iurie Gorea, reached the final round of the selection contest.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Economy appointed five civil society representatives to the boards of several energy companies. Corina Gaibu (IDIS Viitorul), Constantin Borosan (expert in a European consulting company), Marin Ghenciu (Expert-Grup), Sergiu Tofilat (WatchDog.MD) and Victor Parlicov (former ANRE chairman) will be added to boards, audit or censor committees of CET Nord, RED Nord, Energoelectrica and Termocom. This marks a break with tradition, as usually only government servants were appointed to such positions.

Meanwhile, youthful MP duo Dan Perciun and Radu Marian presented a bill to reduce bureaucracy for small and medium businesses. In short, the seven proposed measures are: making cashier receipts (up to 1000 lei) acceptable documents for accounting purposes; removing the ”for stamp” place from documents, given that stamps are no longer mandatory; accepting signed and scanned ”factura” invoices as fiscal proof; simplified taxes for freelancers; implementing a single unified annual report for SRL enterprises; applying the same loan laws for enterprises as for natural persons, in order to make credits more transparent; and simplifying the e-factura electronic invoice system in order to allow issuing it 3 days in advance for bought goods and 10 days afterwards for delivered services.