Moldova in brief, week #31, July 27-August 1.

Riding the big wave

On Friday, the novel coronavirus total case count in Moldova reached 24,733, including 6,686 active cases. A total of 128,076 tests were carried out, meaning that at least one in five Moldovans who were tested got the virus. In fact, according to worldometers.info, Moldova ranks a lowly 98th in terms of testing. A piece of good news however is that the Government has made the Covid-19 test free of charge for the insured population by adding it to the mandatory health insurance plan.

Last week saw a 22% spike in the number of cases compared with the previous week, so the authorities decided to lock down swimming pools again, 16 days after their reopening.

While President Igor Dodon stated earlier that Moldova could receive an anti-Covid vaccine from Russia already this fall, Moldova’s chief public health officer Nicolae Furtună is less optimistic and believes the possibility of getting a vaccine this year is unlikely. Moreover, Furtună says the pandemic has affected the production of seasonal flu shots, meaning they could be in short supply this winter.

On a global level, WHO warns that the Covid-19 pandemic is accelerating and that it seems to be unfolding in one big wave, without seasonal variations. This contradicts Moldovan Prime Minister Ion Chicu’s earlier estimation that our country is already facing the second wave of the pandemic.

Disappointments with appointments

The Superior Council of the Judiciary met on Tuesday to discuss the promotion of several judges, including some controversial ones. The opposition party PAS held a protest outside. Justice minister Fadei Nagacevschi, usually an infrequent attendee despite being a member, decided to show up this time to “deliver a message” that judges with integrity issues should not be promoted. The Council was not swayed by the minister or the protesters and went on to appoint Tamara Chișca-Doneva, the judge responsible for several cases and millions of euros lost at the ECHR, as deputy chair of the Supreme Court of Justice and Vladislav Clima, one of those who rejected the appeal against the annulment of election results in Chișinău in 2018, as head of the Chișinău Court of Appeals.

Prime minister Chicu was indignant with the promotion of Tamara Chișca-Doneva, while the opposition was rather dismayed by Clima’s career advance. Minister Nagacevschi said he was surprised by the “ingroup favoritism” shown by the judges. When told by his predecessor Olesea Stamate that some of CSM members might have been blackmailed, Nagacevschi answered “I can’t even imagine how such systems keep on functioning”.

We at sic! took a look back at the times when Fadei Nagacevschi as a lawyer seemed less naive and was insisting on the need for a “shock therapy” that would cut off the judicial corruption at the roots. We analyzed how things moved since Fadei Nagacevschi became minister and whether he succeeded. Read the article here: Justice reform: a shock or a joke?.

The judicial appointments were a disappointment for Moldova’s development partners. EU ambassador Peter Michalko wrote that the promotions “raise doubts as to the sincerity of the declarations on the justice system reform”. Even the Embassy of the Netherlands came up with a similar statement.

The drama in the judiciary had its overture last week, when the Parliament’s legal committee failed to assent to the appointment of judge Viorica Puica to the Supreme Court, despite her having come first in the SCM selection process. Civil society organizations criticized the move, and Parliament postponed its decision on the issue.

Copy-Const

President Dodon has created a working group for a constitutional reform. Its members include, among others, former Constitutional Court presidents Dumitru Pulbere and Victor Pușcaș, but also the infamous former Supreme Court president Ion Muruianu. Per the presidential decree, the objectives are to reduce the number of MPs, ban party-switching, rebalance the powers among Parliament, Government and the President, review controversial CC rulings, redefine the jurisdiction of the Constitutional Court and the Superior Council of the Judiciary, introduce a “balanced foreign policy” provision, and others.

MP Dumitru Diacov, founder and leading member of the Democratic Party, has supported the president’s initiative. Diacov thinks a rewritten Constitution would “remove current ambiguities” and enable “a rearrangement of government institutions to make them as efficient as possible.”

The week before, the Moldovan ambassador in Moscow Andrei Neguța said he was closely watching the constitutional reform in Russia and even discussed with the Russian authorities what could be changed in Moldova’s supreme law.

Constitutional expert Alexandru Arseni thinks Igor Dodon wants to emulate Vladimir Putin’s reform in order to increase presidential powers and perhaps extend the presidential term of office. Arseni also says that the “institutional blocks” cited by the president are merely instances of government officials failing to discharge their duties.
MP Igor Munteanu, vice president of the opposition PDA party, labeled Dodon’s plan a “constitutional putsch” ahead of the upcoming presidential election, fearing that it could lead to the “Transnistrisation” of Moldova.

A race against time

Prime Minister Ion Chicu doesn’t rule out a scenario in which the upcoming presidential elections could be postponed because of the pandemic. The PM says he hopes this won’t be necessary because it would destabilize the political situation. However, Chicu also told the politicians “who already have an opinion and know what they want to do in case of a postponement” to keep calm.

A week ago, President Dodon also spoke about the possibility of delaying the elections, citing the worsening epidemiological situation. PAS leader Maia Sandu, who had already announced her candidacy, warned Dodon “to not even think about it”.

Meanwhile, the presidential race is steadily picking up speed. Former president Vladimir Voronin suggested he might run again on behalf of the Communists and openly admitted his main goal is to prevent Igor Dodon from winning a second term. The latter has another rival on the left wing - mayor of Bălți Renato Usatîi urged his fans to send him videos of support and said he would formally join the presidential race if he got enough videos by August 27.

According to a poll by Date Inteligente, 37.8% of respondents who know who they want to vote for are supporting Igor Dodon, 30.7% prefer Maia Sandu, 5.7% would vote for Renato Usatîi and 5% would cast their ballots for fugitive oligarch Ilan Șor. In the second round, say the pollsters, Dodon would defeat Sandu 54.1% to 45.9%.

Parks and retaliation

Mayor of Chișinău Ion Ceban has taken it upon himself to restore order in the parks of the capital. He asked district heads to forbid the parking of cars in parks. Ceban also wants to get rid of cars parked on the city main avenue Ștefan cel Mare. After a little girl was hit by a bicycle in Valea Trandafirilor Park, Ceban also turned his attention towards cyclists. He claims many of them are “racing” and endangering pedestrians. Because of this, says the mayor, the rules for cycling in parks could be changed.

Also in Valea Trandafirilor, Ion Ceban is unhappy with the large number of “illegal kiosks, building sites, which are forbidden in this period, kids’ cars and trampolines”. The mayor threatened to fire the district head if he didn’t clean the park by Monday. After the weekend, Ceban announced his intention to withhold a month’s worth of wages from the district head, causing many to wonder whether such a step is legal or just a bit of showing off.

On Thursday, Ceban took the journalists to the wastewater treatment plant and explained why it doesn’t stink as much as last summer. Nonetheless, according to him, the city needs another €5 million to solve the problem of leftover mud from the plant once and for all.

Meanwhile, the Municipal Council initiated the procedure to develop a General Urban Plan for Chișinău. Councilor Sergiu Tofilat wants to contest the decision. He fears that the municipality is trying to sidestep tender and public procurement rules by accepting ”donations” from Russia and Romania. One of the companies involved has quite a controversial reputation in Bucharest, where it is accused of developing city plans that favor real estate sharks.

Greetings, president

On Thursday President Igor Dodon greeted at his suburban residence in Condrița the separatist leader Vadim Krasnoselski, whom he called “the president of Transnistria”. This phrase hit a raw nerve in Chișinău. Andrei Năstase said his PDA party will complain to the Prosecutor General, as PAS lawmaker Oazu Nantoi described Igor Dodon as “a Russian agent of influence, whose goal is to implement the second iteration of the Kozak plan,” i.e. to achieve the federalization of Moldova.

During the meeting, Dodon and Kransnoselski discussed the checkpoints installed recently and unilaterally by the separatists. Kransnoselski said that only 11 of the initial 31 checkpoints are still in place and that their only purpose has been to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Igor Dodon said “concrete arrangements” have been reached to advance the telecom agenda, cooperation on criminal matters and banking issues, as well as the opening of a trolleybus line between Varnița and Bender (Tighina).

On Thursday, another discussion took place online between the Moldovan Deputy Prime Minister for Reintegration Cristina Lesnic and Transnistria’s chief diplomat Vitali Ignatiev, with the media in Tiraspol running headlines like “Moldova is not ready to solve problems” and “Transnistrians [are scrapping neutral plates] because of violations of agreements by Moldova.” The neutral vehicle registration plates were introduced as a solution to enable cars registered in Transnistria to travel internationally, but drivers from the eastern bank say that the Moldovan police are now demanding that they have a Moldovan driver’s license as well.

Nobody’s bill

After Parliament last week approved in first reading a set of amendments to the Anti-Money Laundering Law, Justice Minister Fadei Nagacevschi has washed his hands of the bill. He said that “the Ministry of Justice does not endorse this draft law” and that all the questions should be redirected to the prime-ministerial adviser Nicolae Eșanu who presented it in Parliament. When asked why he voted for the bill during the Government approval phase, Nagacevschi said it could be improved between the first reading and the second one, perhaps even with the participation of external partners. Nagacevschi’s position reminds that of Parliament’s legal commission, with 7 out of 8 members abstaining on the bill.

Transparency International Moldova has warned that the amendments could make it harder to arrest and recover proceeds of crime, such as the money stolen in the infamous $1 billion bank fraud. By the way, minister Nagacevschi hesitantly admitted that “[he] can also glimpse the risks that have been brought up.” In addition, TI-Moldova said the lack of transparency and the haste around the bill, whose exact creator remains unknown, raise suspicions, calling for its removal from Parliament.

Millions and millions

PM Chicu says the negotiations with the IMF on a $550M+ loan are about to be completed, with only a few legal issues to be settled. The IMF’s final approval is expected in September.

Additionally, the Government has approved the ratification of legislation for accepting up to €100 million in macrofinancial assistance from the European Union.

Ion Chicu announced again that the Government is resuming talks on a €200 million Russian loan whose first variant was declared unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court.

Newsmaker published a roundup piece on the foreign funding received or currently negotiated by the Moldovan government and the purposes of these funds.

More news, in one sentence

◾ After farmers resumed their protests in an attempt to obtain drought subsidies, PM Chicu promised to try and secure additional financing, urging farmers not to let “the political locust” invade agriculture.

◾ The energy regulatory agency ANRE approved a 11% decrease in electricity rates.

◾ The investigative publication ZdG published a piece detailing Vlad Plahotniuc’s embezzlement scheme from the once state-run Metalferos scrap metal company.

◾ The First Home Program has been officially updated: the initial installment is down to 5%, the minimal age is up to 50 years, and all the types of beneficiaries can qualify for some form of subsidy.

◾ PAS leader Maia Sandu had a meeting with Russian ambassador Oleg Vasnetsov, enraging activists advocating unification with Romania.

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