3½ Years a President. Part Two: Pensions, coronavirus response, and electoral charity with foreign money
This is a translated and slightly adapted version of an article originally published in Romanian on September 9.
Seeking re-election on November 1, President Igor Dodon has recently presented a 41-page report where he claims he has fulfilled “80-90 percent” of his electoral promises. In the previous part of this piece, we looked at the legislative and diplomatic achievements of Moldova’s fifth president. This time, we are going to discuss Igor Dodon’s contribution to the anti-Covid effort, the efficiency of his “social measures” and his fondness for political charity.
‘It’s just like the flu’
Igor Dodon devotes very little space in his report to the ongoing pandemic. Despite his optimistic remarks on his Facebook vlog, facts and figures show that the Moldovan authorities haven’t been able to keep the novel coronavirus at bay. On September 8, Moldova had 9,865 infected and 263 dead per one million population. To compare, Romania, which Prime Minister Chicu criticized earlier over its handling of the corona crisis, had 4,938 infected and 202 dead per one million.
In Europe, we are in 7th place in terms of Covid cases per capita. Even more concerning is the fact that the rate of positive tests remains constantly high at around 20%. If we tested more, the case count would likely be bigger still. Even so, in August and September, Moldova broke record after record in terms of new cases in a day.
Igor Dodon, through his both remarks and behavior, discouraged Moldovans from taking the disease seriously. His bits of wisdom have become aphorisms: “This coronavirus can pass through you and you won’t even notice. Studies have been carried out already. It’s just like the flu. Your nose is a little runny, you get a little bit of headache, you get the cold and so you know you had the coronavirus. If you develop symptoms, go see [a doctor]; if not, don’t bother doctors.” Four days after this declaration, the Government sent the army out in the street, with heavy machine guns on top of armored vehicles and all, to convince the population to self-isolate.
While the president has little direct powers in overseeing the coronavirus response, communication with the general population is one of them. Instead of coordinating his messages with the public health authorities, Igor Dodon has only amplified confusion among Moldovans. Any restrictions are by definition unpopular, and President Dodon, as a responsible politician, has preferred on many occasions to contradict public health experts just to say things that people tired of restrictions wanted to hear. He admits it himself: “I said it three months ago, and I will repeat it now: it’s a mistake to forbid young people from having weddings. And everybody is taking offense at my statements: the Public Health Agency, the [health] minister, the prime minister.”
Igor Dodon’s latest enterprise in the anti-Covid effort has been the attempt to bring the Russian vaccine into Moldova, a vaccine that hasn’t been tested sufficiently. He has even offered to be the first Moldovan to test it – a statement that may appear strong in electoral context, but it doesn’t make the vaccine any safer and more effective. sic! explained here how a vaccine is normally tested and why the Russian preparation is not yet safe to be used en masse.
April Fool’s Day corona crisis measures
The president goes on to praise the series of social and economic measures taken by the Government during the pandemic. Meanwhile, the Government intended to cancel some of them, in particular the 16,000 lei (about €815) payouts for frontline responders (health care workers, police officers etc.) who caught the virus while on duty. Following public outcry, Igor Dodon promised he would veto the bill if Parliament adopted it. But eventually it didn’t pass the legislature.
As for the measures taken to protect employees and businesses through the corona crisis, sic! discussed them in detail in two pieces published at the time of their adoption: “We urgently need a new mechanism for protecting employees” and “Useful economic measures or an April Fool’s Day farce?”.
Among other things, we explained why the decision to increase unemployment pays, in combination with the inactivation of some Labor Code provisions, practically encouraged unemployment. While governments in other countries helped companies keep their employees, the measures that Igor Dodon boasts about did the exact opposite.
Further, many of the “subsidies” announced by the Government were, in effect, tax exemptions and refunds. While they did provide some relief, giving away and giving back money are two different things.
The promised indexation
As shown in the first part, only 6 out of 24 law proposals submitted by the president were eventually adopted by Parliament, and 5 of them concern pensions and welfare benefits. Atop of them all is the proposal to adjust pensions through indexation twice a year – “a revolutionary initiative”, as Igor Dodon described it.
At first, the initiative was promising. However, between the first and the second reading of the bill, Socialist MP Vladimir Odnostalco sneaked an amendment that practically annulled the effect of the measure, as the indexation factor was reduced. The practical result of the president’s “revolutionary initiative” became evident just recently, when the Government announced that, on October 1, pensions will be indexed by an average 1.07%, or 19.5 lei (about $1.2). The recipients of the minimum pension, i.e. those who are in most need of a tangible increase, will only get 12 lei extra (about $0.7).
Meanwhile, the Government headed by a former adviser to President Dodon refused to formally endorse a proposal by the opposition party PAS to cap “super-pensions,” a bill that would reduce the yawning gap between the pensions enjoyed by retired judges and government officials, for example, and the minimum pension.
From foreigners with love
In his report, Igor Dodon praises the programs of a charity called “Din Suflet” (adapted translation – From the Heart) and chaired by the first lady Galina: for example, 10 million lei (about $604k) spent on cochlear implants for children with hearing loss; or 4,000 lei (about $240) payouts for families that welcomed their fourth child; or “hundreds of folk costumes and tens of thousands of mărțișors” for Moldovan expats, and so on.
So what’s the big deal? Two years ago, as Moldova prepared for legislative elections, sic! explained in a piece titled “Charity for votes” that politicians use such organizations to buy votes under the pretense of charity and bypass electoral rules in this way. In order to improve the lives of their voters, elected officials should use their authority and political power, not throw some charitable bones come election time.
The sources of financing for these so-called charitable programs are unknown. Financial transparency rules for such organizations are less strict than those applicable to parties. While the exact benefactors remain unknown, Igor Dodon’s report gives us a clue as to the origin of the money: “On the initiative of the President of the Republic of Moldova, through the Charitable Fund ‘Din Suflet’, and with the participation of multiple international partners with philanthropic activity in the Russian Federation, the Republic of Turkey, the People’s Republic of China, the French Republic, the United Arab Emirates etc.”
So Igor Dodon makes it no secret that the Fund acts “on his initiative” and with the financial contribution of “multiple international partners.” That the Fund’s activities are political in nature is as obvious as it is illegal. Even more concerning is that this electoral philanthropy seems to be sponsored with foreign money, which would be also illegal, if not a national security threat.
The president’s new clothes
Maybe President Dodon has been dealt a bad hand. For more than half of this term he had been in not a necessarily enjoyable cohabitation relationship with the oligarch Vlad Plahotniuc. After installing his advisor as prime minister and a top Socialist became Chișinău mayor, the sun seemed to start shining in Igor Dodon’s yard. But then the coronavirus came. It’s been a difficut period for everybody, but Igor Dodon and his government have needlessly complicated the situation even more through contradictory measures and messages. The outcome is obvious, with Moldova ranking high among Europe’s worst hit countries.
Instead of protecting employees, the economic measures adopted by the Government encouraged unemployment. Without any meaningful support, businesses have been largely left on their own. The double indexation of pensions, the jewel of Igor Dodon’s social measures, materialized as a $1.2 increase. Meanwhile, the first lady’s charity has exploited poverty and people’s needs to make publicity for the president on foreign money.
All in all, the president’s report seems less valuable than the paper on which it was printed.
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(video) Igor Dodon, despre anularea celor 16 mii de lei, oferiți persoanelor angajate la stat, în cazul în care se îmbolnăvesc cu Covid: Dacă va fi votată în Parlament, eu nu o voi promulga, unimedia.info ↩︎