Moldova in brief, week #6, February 8-14.

What’s the rush?

The number of new coronavirus cases in Moldova has been on the rise for the third consecutive week. The week’s maximum was recorded on Friday, with 1280 cases out of 3,757 primary tests (34% positive).

But no vaccines have arrived yet. On Thursday, Sănătate Info reported there’s no exact date for when the first batch is expected. “There has been no confirmation to date of the vaccines being on their way, but we have a promise that they will arrive [some time] after the 15th,” says Dr. Vasile Guștiuc, acting head of the Public Health Agency. In total, Moldova should receive enough free shots to vaccinate 20% of its population. Subsequently, also through the global platform Covax, we’ll be able to buy vaccines at preferential prices for an additional 30% of the population. Vaccination will be voluntary and, at least for these 50% of the population, free of charge as well.

Also last week, the EU announced it would offer €40M for a three-year program, implemented by the WHO, to support immunization efforts in Moldova and the five other countries of Eastern Partnership. Romania and Czechia donated protective equipment and ventilators valued at a total €3.3M.

Meanwhile, Socialist leader Igor Dodon and acting PM Aureliu Ciocoi held separate meetings with Russian ambassador Oleg Vasnetsov to discuss vaccine deliveries. Ciocoi underlined that Moldova would give priority to vaccines approved by the WHO and the “world community.” The previous week, Ministry of Health representatives said the Sputnik V developers hadn’t applied for registration in Moldova yet. In fact, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) say they haven’t received the Russians’ file either.

A discovery of candidates

Natalia Gavriliță’s Cabinet was rejected by the Parliament on Thursday, with a grand total of zero votes in favor. While the MPs were still debating her program and team, Igor Dodon came to the Parliament and announced PSRM was putting forward economist Mariana Durleșteanu for prime minister. The Socialists and Ilan Șor’s Platform For Moldova then formally announced a ”situational majority” of 54 MPs in support of Durleșteanu. Dodon then flew to Moscow on a seat reserved by the Russian Embassy.

President Sandu did not accept the PSRM-Șor PM candidate, arguing that some of the 54 lawmakers had been bribed or threatened. Instead, she nominated Natalia Gavriliță for a second time. The Socialists will appeal this decision at the Constitutional Court. PAS MP Oazu Nantoi has his own request to the CC – he wants the judges to change their previous interpretation of the Constitution so that the president won’t have to accept any PM candidate put forward by any parliamentary majority.

Meanwhile, PPDA nominated Andrei Năstase for prime minister. PSRM’s Vlad Bătrîncea even claimed the Socialists could vote for him if Năstase could prove he wasn’t just a ”puppet candidate”. This only fuelled speculation started by Ștefan Gligor, leader of the yet unregistered Party of Change, that PSRM put forward Durleșteanu only to make Sandu accept a compromise in Andrei Năstase, the real candidate, that is.

Durleșteanu herself said she did not know that the Șor Party MPs would sign for her. PDM MP Ion Leucă then declared that the Democrats had been asked to support Durleșteanu’s nomination, in which case the Șor MPs would withdraw from the list.

Mariana Durleșteanu is a former finance minister in the Greceanîi Cabinet (2008-2009). At that time, together with Igor Dodon, who was minister of economy, she signed the decision regarding the controversial privatization of Hotel Codru and Air Moldova. PAS interim leader Igor Grosu also suggested that banker Veaceslav Platon was one of the people behind Durleșteanu’s nomination, given her stint in the board of Moldindconbank when the institution was under Platon’s control.

The Parliament will wait on the CC’s answer to PSRM and PAS’s questions before examining a new nominee for prime minister.

Friday voting

After Thursday’s drama, the lawmakers gathered on Friday to examine other pressing bills. For over an hour they debated whether MPs should take the same oath as the president and finally voted the bill in first reading.

The Parliament delayed until the end of the year the complete switch to a contract-based military service. The transfer of public order protection duties from the police to the Carabineer Troops is also delayed until 2022.

The MPs also voted in first reading a law meant to prevent abuses against businesses by various public inspection services.

The lawmakers agreed to create a committee that will examine ”the integrated management of water resources in the Nistru River”. While talking about the danger posed by Ukraine’s hydroelectric expansion plans, the MPs – many of them members of previous governments – did not miss the chance to pass around the blame for the current situation. The committee will be headed by PSRM’s Alla Pilipețcaia, with former environment minister Violeta Ivanov (Șor Party) as her deputy.

The meeting schedule included parliamentary hearings regarding the lease of the Chișinău Airport and the privatization of Air Moldova, but the head of the Public Property Agency and his deputy both called in sick so the hearing was postponed.

The MPs also started discussing the creation of an anti-Covid parliamentary committee, but some of their colleagues went home and the Parliament was left without quorum.

Wayward rails

Last week, the press wrote that the Moldovan Railways (CFM) administration would end some routes that brought financial losses to the company and that it would sell some old equipment for scrap metal in order to pay off some of its salary arrears. This week, first deputy director Vitalie Mucan, also a PSRM municipal councillor, blamed the previous administrations for the company’s troubles but assured that the current board had already plotted a path to save CFM from the brink of bankruptcy.

On Tuesday, the parliamentary committee for examining the CFM issue met for the first time. The committee is chaired by Socialist MP Oleg Lipski. The lawmakers decided to ask for more information from the Ministry of the Interior, the intelligence service, the National Anticorruption Center, the Public Property Agency and the Prosecutor General’s Office.

PPDA MP Igor Munteanu wrote on FB that anticorruption prosecutors had already opened an investigation regarding the theft and syphoning of public funds via CFM in the interest of organized criminal groups.

Can you keep a secret?

The Socialists asked President Sandu to explain herself following reports that she met with a group of judges in secret the previous week. The Socialists equated the meeting to interference and undue pressure on the judiciary. If the president wishes to discuss the justice reform with members of the bench, the Socialists insist, such meetings should be transparent and the only point of contact should be the Superior Council of the Magistracy (CSM).

When asked about the meeting, Sandu avoided a direct answer, but said she intended to meet with the CSM as soon as possible (a meeting scheduled earlier didn’t take place due to several CMS members testing positive for coronavirus). Later, presidential adviser Olesea Stamate confirmed to Newsmaker that Sandu did host a group of judges at the Presidential Palace and that other such meetings would follow. The purpose is to learn first-hand about the problems facing the judiciary, says Stamate. And while the presidential adviser sees “nothing illegal or unconstitutional” in this, a number of legal experts contacted by Newsmaker agreed that the secrecy of such meetings didn’t help and could send a wrong signal.

Also, Sandu announced she wanted to reintroduce into the public agenda the initiative to hold an extraordinary vetting procedure for judges and prosecutors. The president says that the judiciary had enough time to demonstrate that it can “cleanse” itself of corruption, through the existing self-evaluation instruments, but it failed to do so.

Counter-attacking, PAS acting president Igor Grosu alleged that Igor Dodon was continuing to pull the strings within the caretaker cabinet, forcing ministers to play the Socialists’ game. Grosu accused Dodon in particular of instructing interior minister Voicu to keep PAS officials and presidential advisers under surveillance. PSRM lawmaker Grigore Novac dismissed this as an “invention.”

More news, in one sentence

◾ The National Integrity Agency (ANI) started a probe to see if Igor Dodon didn’t hold any incompatible position in parallel during his presidency, and PSRM recalled that a similar ANI probe started in 2017 already found that the position of president of the Chess Federation held by Dodon was not incompatible, since it was an unsalaried job.

◾ The Socialists asked ANI and prosecutors, as well as Romanian authorities, to investigate reports that the family of presidential adviser Ala Nemerenco owned a mountain hotel and an offshore company, both undeclared, while Nemerenco responded that the 4-room pension in the Romanian Carpathians was actually owned by her 40-year-old son, that it was opened as a small business with European funds (not dirty money), and that the law didn’t require her to declare such assets.

◾ A parliamentary inquiry commission led by Democrat Nicolae Ciubuc found that the Micăuți Quarry extracted over 1.4 million cubic meters of undeclared ore and trespassed on foreign property, including public land; earlier, Micăuți Quarry representatives suggested all its troubles were a plot by a rival company.

◾ The Chișinău administration will hold a new call for proposals to buy 100 buses, after the tender won last year by Isuzu Anadolu was successfully challenged by other contenders.

◾ The Romanian Government approved a donation of 6,000 tonnes of fuel in support of Moldovan farmers hit by last year’s drought.

◾ In Russia, banker Oleg Kuzmin admitted his guilt as part of an investigation into the Russian Laundromat and testified against Vladimir Plahotniuc, Ilan Șor, Veaceslav Platon, and Renato Usatîi, among others; in retort, Usatîi presented evidence showing that Kuzmin didn’t know him personally and didn’t know what role Ustatîi might have had in the scheme.

◾ Perhaps the only platform for free speech and assembly in Tiraspol, Club No. 19, was shut down due to a legal ban on “foreign-funded political activities”.

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