March is a month of great tension and conflict in the air–quite properly dedicated by ancient Romans to the god of war. But what I like about March (apart from Mărţishor/Martenitsa) is that battles (political ones included) have a tendency to get settled–one way, or another. As of Friday, Romania has a new minister of justice, after almost 3 months of troubles. I’m not sure he’s well versed in anti-corruption matters, but Mr Predoiu deserves a chance, given his background in corporate governance. In light of recent developments, I’d offer the new minister a spring talisman (made of three suggestions) for the upcoming 3 to 12 months, until the next elections:
The Red Thread
Following the DNA activity report, last Thursday was quite a bummer for anti-corruption prosecutors. As pointed earlier, DNA covers only one dimension of the anti-corruption policy implementation. Reportedly, Mayor Radu Mazăre may have hidden his fortune (allegedly amassed by corrupt means) in off-shores or foreign banks. If true, Mr Mazăre may have found/designed a cunning way/plan to dodge the bullet, and raised quite a challenge for asset recovery in Romania, under UNCAC art. 20 and Chapter V. The political elite failed in 2005 to offer a coherent package regarding administrative means of prevention and control in the fight against corruption: In spite of already having extremely detailed declarations of assets and interests, a stronger fiscal agency with a leadership of great will and determination, and a securely established ministry of control, the governing coalition of 2005 postponed the creation of the integrity agency indefinitely 🙁 In a sense, the coalition had built all the pillars of a “bridge,” but ditched the arch–much to the frustration of various analysts who’d warned about potential glitches, but expected only the best… 2008 should see the Ministry of Justice pushing for the adoption of a clever anti-corruption strategy, such that synergy among institutions may finally yield substantial results.
The White Thread
Indeed, the National Integrity Agency is not yet operational. There’s hope it would finally have a President and the starting number of 33 inspectors by the end of March. What if it doesn’t?!? ANI may well continue to function without a President, but that wouldn’t look too good, in terms of credibility and legitimacy–both domestically and in relation to Brussels’s upcoming report on the safeguard clause, in July. The current Integrity Council, charged last June to recruit and select candidates for ANI‘s top position, should be dissolved if the third consecutive attempt is also a failure–then, something must be wrong in the way they (myself included) had organized the competition! A new Council should be appointed, and the method for selecting ANI‘s President, too. My suggestion is based on the contention that Romania’s institutional and constitutional arrangement is conflict-adverse; hence, a procedure should be designed to ensure consensus. For instance, Mr Predoiu could easily propose a government decree in April, amending the ANI law to the effect that political parties in the parliamentary opposition agree on three candidates, and the governing coalition selects and appoints one. Thus, no party should have reasons for any objections, the political impartiality of the Agency would be ensured, and the “bridge” would be finally complete.
- the penal and penal procedure codes of 1968, still in force though constantly amended since 1990;
- the Stănoiu code of 2004, approved by Parliament in 2005, but whose application was postponed until September 2008; and
- the Macovei/Chiuariu (and, soon, Predoiu) codes of 2006-08, not yet finalized, but supposed to replace both sets mentioned above.
One top priority is to introduce/establish faster trial procedures, especially with respect to technicalities, exceptions and observance of constitutional/procedural rights. The objective should be to expedite preliminary proceedings and dive faster into the heart of the matter, such that criminal (and corruption) trials would finally comply with the European requirement of “reasonable time.” Also, some limitations to the judges’ discretionary power in dictating sentences would be in order–especially in corruption cases, as recently pointed about the Anti-Corruption Prosecution’s activity report 2007.
If these three points were all that Mr Predoiu ever did during his new mandate as minister of justice, he may finally settle the political war over anti-corruption policy implementation in Romania. Mr Predoiu finds himself in the unique position to finalize and polish the “bridge” whose construction started in 2004, when Romania ratified UNCAC. Thus, after the battles of March, the month of April may witness a new opening for the Romanian justice system, a glimpse that justice may be done to witnesses and victims of corruption. Asking the new minister to eventually reshape the Superior Council of Magistracy might be too much, but there’s no doubt in my mind it would be greatly appreciated 🙂