Moldova in brief, week #4, January 25-31.

The Moldovan patient

During January 24-30, the number of new coronavirus cases rose by 8% on the previous 7-day period, but the number of deaths decreased, from 102 to 87. As of Saturday, the total case count neared the 160,000 mark as the death toll stood at 3434.

As the EU faces delays in vaccine deliveries, and the European Commission was even on the brink of a trade war with the UK over the shortage, Moldova is waiting patiently for the 200,000 doses promised by Romania. On Wednesday, the Romanian government sent a delegation to make preparations for the shipment and to share Romania’s organizational and logistic experience following the launch of its own vaccination program. On Saturday evening, presidential adviser Dr. Ala Nemerenco announced that a first batch of over 24,000 Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines would arrive by mid February, followed by other installments of an Oxford/AstraZeneca lot reserved for Moldova through the Covax global initiative.

The flying cabinet

Maia Sandu nominated her adviser Natalia Gavriliță for prime-minister. She was the minister of finance in the Sandu Cabinet and later became deputy leader of PAS. Gavriliță wrote on FB that she was honored by the nomination and promised to come before the Parliament with a team and a program that will help Moldova overcome the current crisis and will defend the interest of ordinary people. President Sandu spoke about her confidence in Gavriliță’s abilities, but added that her preferred scenario remained the dissolution of the Parliament in order to trigger early elections. PAS MPs announced they will not vote for their colleague because „no matter how professional the Government is, the most corrupt Parliament in the history of the country won’t let it work”.

The other parties in the Legislative criticized Sandu for stalling her move for so long. Only PPDA announced they would not vote for the new Cabinet. Other parliamentary groups said they would like to examine Gavriliță’s roster of ministers and her governance program. PSRM’s Igor Dodon praised the former finance minister as a professional and ridiculed PAS’s refusal to vote for one of its own party members.

The Socialist leader was equally unhappy with the new membership of the Supreme Security Council, which President Sandu summoned this week. The head of the state appointed some of her advisors to the Council, two PAS MPs and one from PPDA, as well as several civil society representatives. The Socialists pointed towards the latter, worrying that ”members of NGOs funded from abroad” will have access to state secrets. Maia Sandu says that the Council in its former format was not functional. Moreover, she doesn’t trust all the officials who are members of the Council by law and warns she might not invite them to future meetings. The president put the fight against corruption at the top of the Council’s agenda..

The treason of architects

The National Council of Landmark Buildings (CNMI) approved on Friday a project for the construction of a massive complex – four blocks of flats and one business center – between the Circus and the Church of Saint Emperors Constantine and Helene, the second oldest building in Chișinău, according to some researchers. The project had been rejected twice before by the previous CNMI members because it threatens the integrity of the church and of a nearby archaeological site. PAS MP Virgil Pâslariuc thinks this is why the Government decided to hastily change the CNMI membership, in itself a controversial decision set to be contested in court by several NGOs. The activists say that if the change of members is reversed in court, all the decisions approved by the current members will also be cancelled.

One of the new CNMI members is Iurie Povar, recently appointed as an advisor to the mayor of Chișinău on matters of architecture and urbanism. After Povar’s vote in favor of the contested project, Ion Ceban said he would fire him and promised to not allow the construction of the complex.

In a separate development, six members of the Union of Architects, including Povar, wrote an open letter to Ceban complaining about Deputy Mayor Victor Chironda’s criticism. Last week, during a meeting of the Urbanistic Council, Chironda labelled the forum a voting machine that legitimized shady projects before they were voted in the Municipal Council. In response to the architects’ letter, the deputy mayor stood by his words but specified his criticism did not apply to the new members of the Urbanistic Council appointed a year ago.

ABSedarul reciclării :))

The conflict between the Chișinău City Hall and ABS Recycling continued this week. After ABS had announced they would stop sorting municipal waste because of high costs and lack of support from the city, company representatives explained ABS would continue to collect and recycle sorted waste from dedicated containers. However, closing the sorting plant would leave close to 200 people without jobs.

Mayor Ceban dismissed the company’s complaints as blackmail. He claims ABS representatives proposed the City Hall to buy out the company for about €100 million or pay €2.5 million annually for its services. However, Ceban thinks the city has no responsibility for the profits of a private enterprise. According to him, PAS municipal councillors are also against signing a contract with ABS. The mayor asked the municipal sanitation service to hire wherever possible the employees fired by ABS. He also promised the city would work on a PPP to solve the issue of waste management.

Some civic activists responded that waste management isn’t and mustn’t always be a profitable enterprise, which doesn’t make it less necessary. Environmental expert Eugen Camenșcic thinks polluters bear the costs of this service. The National Environmental Center’s Iuliana Cantaragiu is of a similar opinion. She also warned that without sorting recyclable materials, the amount of waste sent to the Țînțăreni dumping grounds would increase.

Protect me not

The State Guards and Protection Service (SPPS), which is under the authority of the President of Moldova, announced it was initiating an ample internal probe to investigate alleged abuse by the previous leadership. The former SPPS head Iaroslav Martin, which was promoted to Major General by Igor Dodon, is accused of multiple instances of misuse of resources. Perhaps the most prominent on the list is the sale of a plot of land in Chișinău which the SPP had received for free for the purpose of building apartments for its officers. But there are pettier things as well, such as misuse of the company vehicles.

The probe will also investigate the “questionable decision” to offer state protection to MP Ștefan Gațcan. Shortly after winning an MP seat with the help of Socialists, Gațcan decided in late June to leave the Socialist group and join Andrian Candu’s Pro Moldova instead. But within hours from the announcement, Gațcan disappeared and subsequently posted video messages to declare he changed his mind. President Dodon put the lawmaker in state protection with the explanation that he was being pursued by Pro Moldova, while Candu & Co. accused the Socialists of simply holding Gațcan a captive. Later in Parliament, the precious legislator was seated beside Socialist group leader Corneliu Furculiță, who occasionally taps Gațcan on the hand when he votes incorrectly.

More news, in one sentence

◾ Summing up his visit to Chișinău and Tiraspol, OSCE Special Representative Thomas Mayr-Harting stated that in 2019 and 2020 the conflict settlement process didn’t advance as expected, but observed the willingness of both parties to make progress so as to improve people’s lives on both banks of the Nistru.

◾ Moldova climbed 5 positions in the 2020 Corruption Perception Index, but is still occupies a lowly 115th spot out of 180 countries; the experts behind Transparency International’s ranking observe that while Moldova is no longer considered a “captured state,” many of Plahotniuc’s schemes have remained in place, as the legislative surprises at the end of last year have undermined anti-corruption efforts.

◾ The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe adopted two resolutions where it underlined the need for the justice reform to continue in Moldova and for the evaluation of judges and prosecutors to become a priority, among other things.

◾ The Chișinău Court of Appeals ordered the High Council of the Judiciary (CSM) to revise its decision and promote Alexandru Gheorghieș, one of the judges involved in an unsuccessful coup against the CSM in the fall of 2019, to become a Supreme Court judge.

◾ After multiple delays, the CSM authorized the retirement of Nina Veleva, one of the judges that hears Ilan Șor’s appeal; CSM head Luiza Gafton assures Veleva’s departure doesn’t mean the appeal proceedings will have to start anew.

◾ Yet another hearing in Ilan Șor’s appeal has been postponed.

◾ Prosecutors unsuccessfully challenged a lower court’s decision not to arrest Viorel Morari, the suspended head of the Anticorruption Prosecution Service, even if they showed that the judge who didn’t warrant Morari’s arrest had been also involved in the Vento case; but at least prosecutors were able to secure the arrest of prosecutor Roman Statnîi in the same case.

◾ With the final intention of raising the minimum salary to 4,000 lei (~$230), PAS lawmakers are asking the Constitutional Court if it’s unconstitutional for the minimum salary to be below the subsistence minimum.

◾ MP Arina Spătaru will be Andrei Năstase’s contender for PDA presidency during the party’s convention slated for February 28; in September 2019, Spătaru announced she was leaving the party’s board over disagreements with “the top leadership”.

◾ Ștefan Gligor, alongside other activists, wants to found “The Party of Change” which would contribute to “replacing the corrupt elites”; the prominent activist Sergiu Tofilat says that his decision to join the initiative doesn’t conflict with his job as presidential adviser and that he announced Maia Sandu about this.

◾ The pharmaceutical group Felicia, which is looking to take over Gedeon Richter operations in Moldova, is suing Renato Usatîi after the politician declared that Plahotniuc, Șor and the Socialists were behind the deal; Usatîi also claims that the group intends to engage in contraband trade and that that was the real motive behind the recent amendments which introduced mobile pharmacies.

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