Maia Sandu, Minister of Education, spoke in an interview for the portal Anticoruptie about the conviction of Veaceslav Negruţa, ex-minister of Finance, the Kroll report, the corruption in the system she manages, and about the Baccalaureate exam that will take place shortly.
Anticoruptie.md: Ms. Minister, you said some time ago that a correct Baccalaureate would change the system. Now that we are approaching a new session, could you tell us to what extent the system has changed?
Maia Sandu: I can say that the system has started to change. We cannot expect immediate results. The first one can be seen in a different attitude of many students to the educational process and I am sure that this has been noticed by many. Students are now more serious when it comes at least to the preparation for the exams. I hope, not only during the preparation for exams but also in the educational process as a whole. We also have a change of attitude among those who are required to assure quality education, and here I would mention first of all the school directors and teachers. I think there is also a change of attitude in parents who want the best for their children but they it do it wrongly when they try to help the children obtain undeserved benefits, not through their own efforts. We can also note some decrease of corruption in the Baccalaureate and we have concrete figures here that speak about it. I want to make reference to the comments of many university lecturers. They say that the quality of students who have passed through a clean Baccalaureate is higher than that of the students before 2013. These are the first results and I am sure that if we maintain the same demands, the same standards, we will witness more serious changes in the years to come.
You have recently issued an order by which you forbid the collection of money for the exams. Does the ministry have a lever to counteract this phenomenon?
The ministry alone will not be able to assure that this order is observed. We hope to have the contribution of the whole society. Last year for instance we received over one hundred calls from people who reported to us that in one institution or another there were attempts to collect money for pens or other things, money which did not have to be collected. We could intervene then and passed on those signals to the National Anticorruption Center (NAC). The NAC intervened and I think in many cases we succeeded in stopping those trends. We rely on the fact that the society, the parents and the students inform themselves and know that they do not have to pay. Only together will we manage to fight this phenomenon until the end.
What news related to the Baccalaureate does the Ministry of Education come with this year? Do the surveillance cameras and the metal detectors remain?
Not too many news. One piece of good news is for those students who have taken foreign language courses and have an international certificate that can confirm that they speak a foreign language pretty well, and in this case they will receive a 10 ex officio. For the rest, the rules remain about the same. We will continue assuring the correctness of the exams and use surveillance cameras, metal detectors where necessary and the presence of observers.
In how many years from now do you think you could renounce the surveillance cameras and metal detectors?
I hope in two or three years from now there will be a totally different attitude. I hope that most university and school students as well as their parents will have realized by then that education is for them and not for the school and that they deserve to make this effort. This would be an optimistic scenario.
The Ministry of Education was shaken by many corruption cases, fraudulent procurements or reinstatements in function that raised suspicions. You tried to get involved personally. You even attended a meeting of the Superior Council of Magistrates, which made the members of this institution unhappy. Do you think you can combat corruption in education with our current judicial system?
First of all, the Ministry of Education more speaks about cases of corruption. This does not necessarily mean that it has many cases of corruption than other public institutions. It is just that we are more transparent and believe that it is important to be transparent and to bring all such situation into the public sight because only in this way can we get support for the reforms that we must implement. There are certain things that we can do with our own forces and certain measures have already produced results. What we have managed to do was improve the funding schools by changing the mechanism and financing formula so that the school budget is sufficient or at least bigger than in the previous years and the burden of informal fees on the parents is reduced. We think this element has produced results. The second element is the antifraud measures we undertook for the Baccalaureate and even though we do not know exactly what produced the effect, we know there has been an effect because I have seen the latest report of Transparency International that proves that bribery in education has decreased by nearly 50% in only two years. This is high performance, especially if we compared it to other sectors in which bribery increased, and not decreased. This does not mean that we stop here; this means that we continue seeking elements by which we would be able to reduce the corruption opportunity but there are certain elements that we, those from education, cannot combat. For as long as those who commit acts of corruption are not sanctioned or even convicted and are not put behind bars, this temptation for acts of corruption will be high. In such case, if the law enforcement, the bodies that must combat corruption do not do their job well, none of the sectors will be able to eliminate fully the phenomenon of corruption.
Right after Veaceslav Negruţa was convicted you had a reaction: “Slowly falls the last frost of makeup from the hideous face of the state captive in the hands of oligarchs. A state cannot claim to be ruled by the law if the corrupt people are allowed to be free and accumulate huge property that is impossible to justify even by the most successful businessman on Earth while honest people who have worked for the country have their prestige and honor mangled in the most cowardly way possible.” What exactly did you refer to?
I was horripilated to find out that an integral person had been convicted in a country where even the biggest thieves are not convicted. To me, that is a clear example of political policing. At the same time, it is a message and, again, a very clear one, addressed to the few integral people who adventure themselves to responsible public offices that their place is not here. So, it is clear that Negruţa disturbs and the message is that such people should not be accepted into the system. All those who have been involved into prosecuting and examining this case know very well that Negruţa did not pull out any benefits from the public office he held. That is the exact reason why I find this an example of absolute callousness. In my opinion, this example is a dramatic turn in this process of capturing of the state.
And yet, we are talking about 400,000 euros. How could he have been benefited after all? It is hard for me to think that only Pantelei Sandulachi could have benefited from the money.
First of all, Mr. Negruţa came with very clear information about how that case had been examined. Secondly, how many such cases and unchallenged decisions exist in this country on which no cases have been started. Let us talk about what it means in general to be a minister. To be minister means to sign tens or even hundreds of documents per day. A minister, no better how good is and even if he wouldn’t have to do other things than sign documents – but you can imagine that a minister must also do reforms, administer a system – cannot know everything. That is why there are officers in the ministry who must do their job well and who must come at least with several options. In the document I saw I did not see some reasoned and every clear options prepared by the lawyer of the Ministry of Finance. This is the situation. The Moldovan Minister of Education does not have the team of the Minister of Education of Germany. Nor does the Moldovan Minister of Finance have thee trained and well-paid team of the Minister of Finance of Germany. When we speak about the problem of small salaries, about the quality of the public officers in ministries, we discuss abstractly on the subject. Now you see an example about how a responsible person risks their skin each day by signing such documents. First of all, we must see how it happened that the judiciary made such a decision and secondly we must see who benefited from that money. Why nobody asks the beneficiary of the money why they do not return it to the state? They don’t have it anymore? Ok, then they must be sanctioned, because there is a decision in place. Can we talk about whether the decision was correct or not and whether a minister in Moldova has all the resources to make absolutely all the decision correctly? Given that billions are being stolen, in this country, people are convicted for something that does not seem to be a correct decision. There has been no proof that Negruţa had benefited in a way or another from this case. I personally can warrant for the integrity of this person and, as I was saying, there are not so many integral persons among the politicians and of the persons who hold high positions in this country. When such a decision is made in regard to an integral person, this is claimant.
After this conviction Veaceslav Negruţa has made a number of statements. In the show “InterPol” he spoke about decision-making hubs outside the country. You are still ruling. Do you feel today the presence of such decision-making hubs?
Everyone feels that the decisions of certain public institutions are not the independent decisions of such institutions, which would be guided only by professionalism, but are some decisions made out of personal or political interests. This is obvious. What is the parties’ interest? In the end, they lead to personal interests.
You were among those who insisted that the Kroll report be made public. Did you find in the report answers to questions related to the irregularities committed in the bank system?
I insisted that the report be made public because the reaction of the state institutions was pale, if not to say that it was missing altogether. In such a situation, when the credibility of the public institutions is close to nil, it is important that there be an external evaluation, so that the people who want to get information are able to do it. I found the report useful. Of course, I would have liked to find answers to more questions of this first report but it was clear to me that that was just a report on the launching of the investigations and could not answer all our questions. Now I think it was a good start, and the question is what follows next. I saw that at least the person that can be suspected of implementing those schemes – I cannot say he is also the author, because the schemes must be proved – was allowed to stay free to participate in the elections. I find it an extremely ridiculous case and I understand that the law allows it but maybe we should have already taken action and amended the law so that such bizarre cases do not happen again in the future. I have not seen any reactions in this sense. I have seen again an example of total callousness manifested by a judge who decided that this person must be kept in home arrest and not in detention, so that the state spends some money again now, supervising this person. As if the state has not lost enough money because of this person. So again, some claimant examples.
What solution do you see in the case of such officers as Valentin Crudu, who allegedly was directly involved in the fraudulent procurement of the 40 school busses and who has recently been reinstated in office?
We are still waiting for the prosecution’s reaction in this case. Unfortunately, the reaction is coming late. This is what division of responsibilities is about. We cannot do what the prosecution was supposed to do. Meanwhile, we are awaiting the judgment of the Supreme Court of Justice in the case of Crudu’s dismissal. This hearing has been postponed several times and we wondering about the reason for that. Anyway, we will be patient that these two institutions do their job and we hope they will do their job well. Meanwhile, Mr. Crudu is on a sick leave but I see him on TV, being involved in the electoral campaign for the Democratic Party candidate. For this, one must be relieved from office. He is on a sick leave. We will see what kind of papers he brings us and we must prove that he has been involved in the campaign, or I have seen him on TV.
The media have repeatedly written about judges with expensive houses and cars. Education officers do not fall too much behind either. How, for example, can we explain the fact that Ion Vrânceanu, Head of the Education Division of Buiucani district of Chişinău, about whom our colleagues from the portal Moldova Curată have written, have impressive assets for a public officer: apartments, accounts with millions, houses?
It is very hard to explain. Nonetheless, I want to say that in education there are much fewer of those with impressive assets whose legal origin cannot be proved. There are more of such in the judiciary but we have them here too and this is a very good example. Now the question is why the bodies combating corruption have not succeeding in bringing evidence that such assets cannot be legally proved and take measures accordingly. I know that the Chişinău Division of Education that is the employer of this person has tried repeatedly to dismiss him but then he was reinstated in office. So, the same story as in other sectors. It is an example where we can see that without the clear intervention of the corruption combating bodies we cannot do anything.
How much time more do you give to the Government part of which you are? Some say chances are few it will remain after the local elections while others say it will be dismissed in the fall. What chances does the current Cabinet of Ministers have to carry out its mandate until the end?
Unfortunately, I am not part of those decision-making centers that decide the Government’s fate. We are in a rather poor situation economically but also due to the low credibility of state institutions. So, on the one hand, it is rather risky to dismiss the Government now but one does not exclude it will happen because from the very beginning the political support for this Government was rather weak as it was voted for also by an opposition party. So, it’s a rather unstable situation. At the same time, we, in Education, continue to carry out our program, our agenda, we try to abstract ourselves from the political programs because we do not want future generations to pay this cost of uncertainty and of very poor decisions. We want to assure ourselves that future generations will be better than us and as people who will administer this country but also as people who will vote for the future politicians and respectively will manage to make better decisions.
Let us admit that the Government falls. Where do you see yourself afterwards?
This is not a problem at all. There are so many opportunities in this world and there are so many interesting things a person can do today and I am really not concerned. We should regret not when a person leaves but when a team leaves. You know the saying: “The cemetery is full of irreplaceable people.” There are no irreplaceable people. A good team with integral people is a rarity today for a public institution and it would be a big pity to lose the Education team.
Let us refer to the diplomas of the Prime Minister Chiril Gaburici. Is there a finale in this case?
There is not one. We are still waiting for the prosecution’s final answer. There has been an intermediary answer of suspicion. Now they must come with a final answer in this case that would confirm or deny their initial suspicion.
Have you tried to approach this subject with the Prime Minister?
As the Minister of Education I am responsible for the actions of the subordinated institutions. I must record if an institution or another has issued a fake document. For the rest, in what concerns the responsibilities of the Prime Minister, there are other institutions that can hold him accountable.