Moldova Weekly #17: dawn of the debt, prosecutor delivered, the minister of separatism
Dawn of the Debt
The government approved the draft budget for 2020, with a planned deficit of 7.4 billion lei (44.1B income, 51.5B expenses), that is 1B more than previously expected. The government predicts a 3.8% economic growth and 8.7% higher wages. With European funding somewhat uncertain after the government change in Chișinău, Prime Minister Ion Chicu said EU funds were not enough for his ambitious plans anyway. These plans include President Igor Dodon's ”social measures package” and €1.4B for national roads over several years, from sources yet to be found. Moldova is already negotiating a $500 million loan from Russia and the government is also looking towards Belarus and China, the latter allegedly being interested in building Chișinău’s ringroad. Veaceslav Negruță, a former minister of finance, warns that the Russian loan might raise Moldova’s indebtedness level to dangerous levels and scare away Western partners. In theory, it might also affect the country’s Moody’s rating, which is already pretty low at B3.
The draft budget caused another exchange of accusations between PM Ion Chicu and his predecessor Maia Sandu. According to her, the draft is basically a campaign budget for Igor Dodon to win the 2020 presidential election. Moreover, Sandu says her Cabinet worked hard to cover the budget gap left by Chicu as minister of finance under the PDM regime and now he is squandering the balanced budget she and her team put together. Ion Chicu however says that Sandu’s ”balanced budget” left public employees with unpaid wages. Maia Sandu replied that she had allotted the money, but Chicu was withholding the payments in order to generate public resentment against her.
The prime minister also had a meeting with Ruben Atoyan, head of the IMF mission to Moldova, who stressed that extending the IMF program beyond March 2020 will require the continuation of reforms. Chicu, who earlier this year criticized the IMF as a presidential advisor and suggested Moldova could do without it, now emphasized the importance of IMF support (on which EU funding is contingent) and his openness towards finding new ways to extend cooperation.
Moldova finally has a new Prosecutor General - Alexandr Stoianoglo. He was previously rumored to be the favorite and some opposition voices, including PAS leader Maia Sandu, claimed his appointment had been secretly agreed between the Socialists and the Democrats. Stoianoglo was one of the four candidates who passed the contest organized by former Justice Minister Olesea Stamate. The government later tried to change the procedure and was dismissed and replaced with the Chicu Cabinet by an informal PDM-PSRM alliance. New Justice Minister Fadei Nagacevschi submitted the names of the four candidates to the High Council of Prosecutors. After interviews behind closed doors, Stoianoglo was announced as the winner and President Dodon promptly signed the decree appointing him as Prosecutor General.
Nonetheless, Stoianoglo seems to be generally well-respected as a professional. Ștefan Gligor, a former competitor for the PG position himself, hopes Stoianoglo will prove a pleasant surprise despite the context of his appointment. Two other candidates, Sergiu Perju and Eduard Bulat, announced they would challenge the pre-selection results on grounds that the evaluation committee wasn’t impartial.
Alexandr Stoianoglo was presented to his fellow prosecutors by President Igor Dodon, who gave him five pieces of advice, one of which, ironically, was to not listen to politicians. Dodon also urged the new chief prosecutor to rid the prosecution services of their reputation as a very corrupt institution, to resist foreign influence, to personally pick his team, and to achieve real progress in the high-profile investigations of public interest (the theft of the century, the usurpation of power, the privatization of Air Moldova and so on). Stoianoglo’s first promise was that prosecutors would leave businesses alone and stop the climate of fear induced in previous years by the PDM government.
The Minister of Separatism
ACUM MPs put forward a simple no-confidence vote against Minister of Defense Victor Gaiciuc. The reason is a 2017 speech in which Gaiciuc brings up the separatist troops from Eastern Ukraine as an example of patriotism for the Moldovan army. Gaiciuc said at the time that the Donbass fighters’ love for their motherland allowed them to fight an enemy with a bigger and better equipped army (that is, the national army of Ukraine).
According to ACUM/PAS MP Mihai Popșoi, Gaiciuc’s words might damage Moldova’s relations with Ukraine and encourage separatism in Transnistria. In turn, Socialist MP Bogdan Țîrdea accused ACUM of caring more about Ukrainian interests than Moldovan ones.
What Popșoi forgot to mention is that Gaiciuc failed to acknowledge that those ”brave fighters” in Eastern Ukraine are helped by Russia, which poured money, ammo and ”volunteers” into the separatist region.
Prime Minister Ion Chicu admits that the judiciary is currently divided into two camps, but said the government respects the judiciary’s independence and would not intervene. Justice Minister Fadei Nagacevschi is in the same mood. He sent a revised concept for the justice reform to the Venice Committee last week. Among the main changes from the previous concept is that the number of Supreme Justice Court judges will not be halved and that the extraordinary vetting of judges and prosecutors will be done through ordinary means. That is, the same tools and procedures that evaluated most judges’ performance as ”excellent” and ”very good” in recent years. Nagacevschi’s proposed changes are the exact opposite of what he advocated just a month or two ago as PSRM party lawyer. At the time, he repeatedly criticized the ACUM Cabinet’s concept for being too soft and demanded a ”shock therapy” approach.
The Missing Chief
PDM leader Pavel Filip confessed that Vlad Plahotniuc ruled the party in an authoritarian way: he decided something, everybody agreed and carried out their orders. Now, Pavel Filip insists that the party has changed and has embraced the benefits of internal democracy. Filip also announced that he finally convinced Constantin Botnari to give up his MP seat. Botnari was one of Plahotniuc’s most trusted men and hasn’t been seen in public after the Democrats had to give up power in June. Meanwhile, Ziarul de Gardă writes that Vlad Plahotniuc’s Foundation Edelweiss has closed shop.
Sharing is caring
The informal alliance between the Democrats and the Socialists in the Parliament is flourishing so far. The two parties replaced several ACUM committee chairs with their own people. PDM’s Alexandru Jizdan took over the national security and defence committee from ACUM/PDA’s Chiril Moțpan. Another Democrat, Violeta Ivanov, will replace another ACUM/PDA MP, Iurie Reniță, as chair of the foreign affairs and European integration committee. Socialists’ Vasile Bolea will take over as head of the legal committee from ACUM/PAS’ Sergiu Litvinenco. Vladimir Golovatiuc (public finances control, PSRM) and Igor Munteanu (economy, budget and finances, ACUM/PDA) will swap places. The Democrats and the Socialists shared most of the deputy chair positions as well. Finally, ACUM lost two of its seats on the Permanent Bureau, with PDM and PSRM taking one each.
The police’s sensitive ears
A former division head at the Ministry of the Interior, Anatol Macovei, confirmed that, under the PDM government, opposition politicians, journalists and civil society activists had been spied on and wiretapped. Macovei says that Maia Sandu had 40 persons spying on her. The police started to get rid of the evidence regarding this illegal surveillance after Vlad Plahotniuc fled the country. The former officer says Andrei Năstase heard about this as Minister of the Interior, but allowed the evidence to be destroyed to get rid of some compromising information. Macovei himself had been affiliated with Năstase’s party before 2016.
Meanwhile, the leadership of the Ministry of the Interior wants to make insulting a police officer a criminal offense, punishable by up to three years in jail or a fine of up to 50,000 lei. Resisting arrest could also become a criminal offense and petty disturbances of public order could be punished with harsher fines.
Finally, the police announced they would fine minibus drivers who stop outside designated stops or who take on too many passengers. Similar steps had been taken in the past, but were short-lived and minibus drivers reverted to their usual and dangerous practices.