Maia Sandu: “The interest in reforms of the current governance is very low”

Cornelia Cozonac
2015-09-21 00:00:00
Photo: CIJM

The ex-minister of education Maia Sandu, credited now with the biggest trust by the citizens, is willing to return to the Moldovan politics if “impediments are removed for integral people who want to contribute to changes.” In an interview given for the portal, the former official opens the parentheses in regard to the reasons why the ruling parties did not support her candidature for the position of prime minister and makes gloomy forecasts for the future of the current governance. At the same time, Maia Sandu expresses fears in regard to the moves made in education by her successor Corina Fusu and encourages the YES Platform and the protesting citizens to put pressure on the governors until the necessary changes are made. You have been in the USA for several weeks. What is the purpose of this visit? What is Maia Sandu doing now?

Maia Sandu: I have come to the USA for several weeks, for a visit that I had planned a long time ago. I had announced earlier that I did not want to leave the sector of education and I try to document myself here about possibilities of my involvement. I talk with people with experience in the education area from the associative sector as well as with others interested in good governance. Several of my colleagues and I hope to create a non-governmental organization that would contribute to promoting reforms in Moldova.

The manner in which your candidature for the office of prime minister was rejected seems rather taken out from a scheme intended to remove you from the current political structure of Moldova since a person who calls things by their names becomes undesirable by the Power. Do you think about how you have been removed from the current government structure?

Regardless of the reasons for my designation and rejection as a candidate for prime minister, it was clear to me from the beginning that my chances of obtaining sufficient support in the Parliament for the things I would have liked to do were nearly inexistent. Although I did not participate in this summer’s negotiations, I attended several discussions of when the program was being developed for the Leancă II Government and I could convince myself that the interest in true reforms was very low. Back then, the exponents of the Democratic Party kept on seeking excuses for delaying one reform or another while those from the PLDM did not insist too much. And I do not think that the coming of the PL changes somehow the situation because, at least so far, I have not seen any reform implemented by this party. The refusal of the leaders of these political entities to discuss the conditions set forth by me was additional proof that they were looking for a person to help the governance pass over an eventual “hot autumn,” not more. Maybe I was presenting a certain interest from the perspective of my credibility among the development partners and, respectively, of the capacity of recovering the external funding; however, once the political leaders became convinced that I would not take care of polishing the image of this governance, they decided not to risk.

In what kind of relations have you remained with the party that promoted you to the position of minister of education? 

I have always appreciated the support I received from the party for promotion reforms in education. It seems, however, that the party has given up believing in the importance of education. I am saying this not only because it did not manage to keep the previous team in the ministry but also because no attempts are made either in the Government or in the party to defend the reforms started in education and to stop the actions of the current management of the ministry aimed at discrediting those reforms. The civil society is the only advocate of reforms in education. This behavior disappoints not only the people from the education system who have contributed to the reformation of the system but also of the electorate who supported the party into continuing the modernization of the country. I know it sounds biased because I worked in this sector but I think that PLDM has lost the last bastion by abandoning the reforms in education.

Of the posts on some social networks we know that you have been following closely what is happening at the Ministry of Education since the coming of the new minister. A part of the team with which you worked had to leave. Is this a signal that a great part of the reforms started could be stopped or, worse, they will go back to the corrupt practices that had been eating on the education system for years?

I do not want to speculate about how the new management of the ministry will behave; however, the first decision of changing the manner of selection of school principals is completely uninspired. In general, along the time, the Liberal Party criticized many of the reforms started by the previous team, reforms that were appreciated by the society, so we can speak about a sliding in many regards. A bad sign is also the fact that the new management of the ministry is involving in its decision-making persons with dubious reputation about whom the players of the education system have very bad opinions and who have no way of contributing to strengthening the trust in the state institutions. However, the biggest damage that the new education decision-makers could cause to the system may be an intervention in the manner of organization of the baccalaureate examination. We will see if they go that far.

The population has less and less trust in the current governance, as proof of this being also the protest started by the YES Platform on 6 September that is still continuing. It seems that the authorities are ignoring the actions of the protesters. How do you comment this situation?  

The protesters formulated some absolutely legitimate requirements when they requested the resignation of many state institutions for the reason that they had not done their job. The reaction of the authorities, especially of the Parliament, taking into account that most of the respective institutions are subordinated thereto, is truly defying. The politicians who have subordinated the system tell us now how hard it is to change a system. Indeed, it is not easy, but the change started with appointing persons who want and have minimal competences to change it. I do not know on what the governance relies when it totally ignores the requirements of the citizens. In addition to the fact that it denotes lack of respect to its own electorate, it also seems to me to be losing strategy. 

How is Moldova now being regarded from over the ocean by the international structures? 

In general, the international organizations working in the development area are very careful when making assessments about countries because they do not want to be accused of interference in their political life. Even less so do they make assessments about specific individuals. Therefore, when responsible Moldovan persons state that we should ask the International Monetary Fund to evaluate the work of the governor of the National Bank of Moldova, they do not have any idea about the IMF competences. Such statements are made exactly in order to delay the dismissal and extend the stay in the office of the current governor who seems to be a very precious person for these officials. Nonetheless, in the past months, I have heard enough tough assessments at the address of the current governance from all the development partners of the country. Moldova, from a ‘success story’, has turned into a big deception. More serious is the fact that the news about the poor governance in Moldova has travelled around the world and has significantly tarnished the country’s image, which will make extremely difficult the attraction of foreign investments in the next years even if the act of governance improves.

Moldova, now more than ever, needs new political leaders, in the governance. The citizens credit you more and more with trust and are putting hope in you. Do you see yourself returned to the Moldovan politics in the near future, for example, leading a party?

I have said on many occasions that I am not attracted by politics. At the same time, I think that the blackmailing to which the current governance has been subjecting us lately, alleging there is no alternative on the right and therefore we must further support the situation as it is will determine the entry into politics of people who do not necessarily dream about a political career. The idea is that in politics there should appear people motivated by something else rather than by the political power, overnight enrichment or personal ambitions. At the same time, the opaque manner of financing of political parties in Moldova represents a major impediment for the integral persons who would like to contribute to the change. This impediment is also valid for me and my colleagues and, therefore, I cannot give you a clear answer about if, how and when I will come back to politics.

The press has been spreading the idea that you may become leader of the YES Platform that, according to the survey, is the only entity of the civil society that enjoys high public trust. Do you see yourself in front of this platform or of a party that may appear soon based on the YES Platform? 

I support the protests because they now represent the only serious way of putting pressure on the political parties to determine them to improve the act of governance. However, I think that, as stated by its members, the YES Platform should remain a civic entity that would put pressure on the governance when necessary, regardless of who is ruling. I think it is important now that the Platform prioritize the claims and keep constant the pressure on the governance, with the citizens’ support.

How do you see Moldova’s future in the next years? 

It is hard for me to make a forecast; there are too many unknowns. We can perhaps expect two scenarios. One in which the governance manages to obtain minimal resources to keep the situation under control for a while, including by obtaining a program with the IMF. But even within a program agreed upon with the IMF the reforms will be cosmetic. The current team has abundantly proved that it can only write and speak about serious reforms but cannot implement them. Medium and long term, the economic and social costs of this scenario will be high. Another possible scenario would be anticipated parliamentary elections, due to the fact that the current governance does not succeed in obtaining sufficient resources to “patch” the 2015-2016 budgets or it fails electing the country’s president. Anticipated elections also bear certain risks. They may bring left-winged parties to power that will further delay the modernization of the country and that will try to increase Russia’s influence on Moldova, which I want to hope will not happen so easily due to the role played by Ukraine in the region. Or, if sound right-winged forces appear, the anticipated elections may offer a real opportunity for change of the political class and, respectively, of the way the country is administered. In any case, short-term, the situation will be rather difficult due to the costs of filling in the gaps in the banking system, the low credibility of the state institutions in the citizens’ eyes, and the poor image that the country has outside. Medium and long term, the future will look differently, depending on what will happen in the next six to nine months.

What actions does the Chișinău Power have to undertake to recover its image and to win over people’s trust? 

The chances of the current power of recovering trust are very low. We see that even when the exponents of the current power come with good ideas (which does not happen too often), they are met with suspicion by the members of the civil society. Nonetheless, an important step the authorities may take in this direction is to dismiss from office the persons whose dismissal has been requested by the citizens and to appoint the persons who will pass through all the filters of the civil society to assure their integrity and professionalism.

What do you think the citizens, the civil society, and the media should do in order not to let Moldova roll down into darkness?   

They must continue what they have started: to demand transparency, to hold up to shame the officials who break the law or who do not do their job right, to protest and, most importantly, to contribute to educating the society so that, until the next elections, we have people with critical thinking, people who cannot be manipulated. 

What are your plans for the near future?

I will try to contribute to this process by building an organization that will monitor the decisions and actions of the public administration and will propose solutions to the problems that the country is facing. 

Cornelia Cozonac
2015-09-21 00:00:00