Monthly Archives: August 2015

Thank You, Maia Sandu!

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After three difficult yet fruitful years as Minister of Education, Maia Sandu was denied a chance to carry on with her reform agenda, as the ministerial position was allocated to the Liberal Party, following a ruling coalition and government reshuffle. There was a brief hope that Maia Sandu would be promoted to Prime Minister, but that was too good to be true. It remains unclear whether Liberal Democrats were serious about their intent to put Sandu in charge of the government or if the party used her good name for PR purposes only. Regardless, it was up to the Liberals and Democrats to decide and they would simply not put up with such an independent minded and popular candidate.

Unfortunately, Maia Sandu finds herself out of public office, for the time being at least. It was speculated that she had been offered the position of Interior Minister in the newly formed Strelet government, which she had refused. On the one hand, this indicates that Sandu is not motivated by the urge of holding a ministerial portfolio, but rather that she has the tenacity to carry on with her mission – improve Moldova’s failing education system. On the other hand, once she was denied political support for becoming prime minister, she could not fully rely on the same political parties for support in any cabinet position.

It is a sad predicament for independent minded and dedicated professionals: either ‘to get on the bus or run along the bus,’ because if they have the audacity ‘to stand in front of the bus’ they will inevitably get crushed. Maia Sandu has the audacity to do things differently than what Moldovan political establishment prescribes. She was, therefore, repelled by the system as a foreign object. This became apparent earlier in her war on judges. Yet, the good news is that a significant part of the Moldovan public, particularly the young and educated demographic, have shown their allegiance to this ‘new way’ of public management. Thanks to social media this support is easily vocalized and creates a momentum of its own. Thus, it begs the question: What will Maia Sandu do to capitalize on her numerous and highly engaged fan base?

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If she chooses to remain in the snake pit that is Moldovan politics, she mainly has three options: a. Stay in PLDM b. Join Leanca c. Create a party of her own. Staying in PLDM is the easiest way of remaining relevant and having a chance at holding public office in the near future. The shortcomings of this choice being that PLDM is in decline, bleeding away support due to numerous strategic and tactical blunders both within the party and in government. Thus, joining Leanca’s emerging team may seem like a good alternative, provided that she is content with turning her back on Filat and PLDM. However, despite promising results in local elections, prospects of the still unregistered PPEM are unclear.

Finally, creating a party from scratch is the most difficult option. Not only is it easier said than done, but such a project would be inherently risky because of the high parliamentary threshold of 6% and rather crowded political spectrum, particularly on the right. Notwithstanding, a party led by Maia Sandu would be an attractive enough force to bring together large numbers of well educated youth and middle aged professionals who value modern public and private management and despise corruption. Mrs. Sandu could potentially tap this vast pool of highly motivated and resourceful citizens and contribute to a real change in the country. I, for one, believe that she, along with a team of likeminded individuals, can create a big enough wave to throw many of the currently dominant politicians over board. Ultimately, it is for her to decide whether she is willing to take on this heavy a burden. Therefore, it is completely understandable if she chooses not to. She has already done more for the country than most of Moldovan politicians will ever do. She proved that genuine, selfless, honest dedication to public service is not a myth and that Moldovans can do that too. So, thank you, Maia Sandu!

PS: If she chooses to leave political life she can certainly do so with her head held high. That is why her recent attacks on her successor Corina Fusu are unfitting. It is, no doubt, frustrating to see your work being undone. Watching the employee you dismissed for embezzlement being promoted by your successor certainly feels like a personal insult, but lashing out on Facebook will not help. Hopefully, this is not mere frustration but a sign of her combative return to politics. Otherwise, such moves, along with the decision to hijack the Education Ministry’s Facebook page, look petty and vain. It only shows that, despite public deification by some and vilification by others, politicians remain merely human.

On the bigger issue of Corina Fusu’s proposed amendments to the appointment process of high school directors, supposedly meant to streamline the overtly demanding competences based selection, but in fact making way for political appointees – it is no good, but neither is the current process. In my humble opinion, high school directors should be selected and appointed by the local councils. The ministry should create a set of minimal guidelines, while local authorities, which pay for the up keeping of schools, should have a strong voice in school management. Schools are, after all, the most important public institutions in most Moldovan localities. Such a reform would, among other things, also strengthen local democracy. Win – Win.

Why Parliament Fails at its Core Function?

Moldova has a short history of democratic pluralism in the country’s legislative arena. However, citizens of Moldova were hoping that the country would learn fast and it did, but not necessarily by the book. Moldovan parliamentarism is a peculiar blend of western democratic norms and eastern drive to disregard those norms whenever they stay in the way. Moldovan politicians often lament, “We have great laws written down, if only they could be enforced.” This is where the shoe pinches. Not only could the laws be improved by Parliament, but indeed legislators fail most miserably at overseeing the enforcement of the very laws they adopt. But why? There are several explanations for that, but no justification.

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The first function of any Parliament is law-making. What would be the ingredients of an efficient legislative process? Professional and experienced lawmakers certainly help, but trained and motivated staffers are crucial. Strangely, it was only three years ago that each lawmaker was allowed to have an assistant.  Earlier, only leadership enjoyed a support team, while all the others relied on Committee staffers as well as their own respective factions for assistance. It should come as no surprise that staffers are underpaid and many are motivated only by their allegiance to the party or to the respective lawmakers. While permanent Parliament staffers are only motivated by their civic duty and the prestige of their job. However, patriotism and pride cannot pay the bills. The legislative has no resources to grow the human capital of its staff. Luckily, international donors step up and invest in training many of the staffers. Yet, due to staff turnover this is unsustainable in the long run.

Yet, personnel issues pale in comparison with the sheer disregard many lawmakers, particularly in the leadership, exhibit towards the legislative process. Parliament Rulebook and even the Constitution become disposable when heads of ruling party/ies agree on a certain course of action. Often bills are voted on the same day they are registered, without any scrutiny or debate. Even worse, on more than one occasion the ruling majority approved a bill without actually having enough votes in the plenary room. As electronic voting equipment rests unused, it is easy to count in as present one or two missing lawmakers, particularly when the press cannot count hands, because it watches a video feed in a room next door. If you think it cannot get worse from here, you are overly optimistic. On several occasions in the last few years Parliament was completely sidelined and important laws, including the state budget, were adopted without any vote in Parliament at all. It was not only possible, but also legal, according to the Constitutional Court, by citing article 106a of the Constitution – ‘Assumption of responsibility by the Government’. Normally, this provision is meant for extraordinary circumstances, but not wanting to deal with the opposition and civil society does not live up to that standard. The opposition can cry fault all they want – ‘the dogs may bark but the caravan moves on’.  This is the logic of power and that might makes right. This is also viewed by some as legitimate payback for how the current ruling establishment was treated when they were in opposition. Thus, the cycle of recrimination is perpetuated.

Therefore, sadly, Parliament fails to contribute to a culture of law-abiding citizenry. Instead, it is a crude reflection of society – little to learn from or aspire to. That is why it has the lowest approval rating (11.3%) among key national institutions. Since the topic is too wide and complex, I will cover the other key parliamentary functions: Elective, Oversight and Representation in a later series of posts. I realize I have not actually fully answered the question posed in the title, nor could I have possibly dreamed of answering it in one blog post. Rather, it is meant to start a discussion.

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