National Ecological Fund, for the press close to ruling parties?
Created two decades ago to support initiatives in environmental protection, the National Ecological Fund (FEN) has become in recent years a source of financing some media pojects close to some parties and actions of polishing the image of heads of the Environment Ministry. In the absence of a transparent mechanism for money allocation, this is shared at the discretion of some officials of the Ministry of Environment, based on a formal assessment.
Money for the association of Andrian Candu’s adviser
In the last five years, over 7.7 million lei from the budget of the National Ecological Fund (NEF) has been allocated for 48 environmental education and information projects. The highest amount, according to the list of media projects approved for funding in the period 2010-2015, was directed to the Association for Development and Cooperation Moldova. In 2014, when the liberal Gheorghe Salaru was minister of Environment, the organization received a grant of nearly 1.2 million for developing the project "Investing in the environment together".
According to data from the State Register of non-profit organizations, the Association was registered on 26 October 2009, under the title "ERA" and in September 2010 was renamed "Association for Development and Cooperation" (ADC Moldova). Supervisor is Gheorghe Saghin and the headquarters of the organization is his home address, an apartment on Boulevard Traian from Botanica sector of the capital. In 2009-2013, Saghin was deputy director of Publika TV channel, the period when director of Publika holding was Dumitru Tira, the current official owner of the media group Realitatea. Tira is a member of the General Assembly of the association led by Saghin. Moreover, the Independent Press Association wrote earlier that Gheorghe Saghin is director of DND Media Company, owned 100% by Tira. Currently, Saghin is one of the six advisors of the Speaker Andrian Candu. He counseled Candu in the period when he served as Minister of Economy. He was employed at the Ministry on July 14, 2014.
The CV attached to the file submitted to the Ministry of Environment reveals that from 2009 to present, ADC Moldova carried out several information projects "that can change the world for the better". These are "The new media across the Nistru River", "Discrimination is a crime", "First vote", "Raise the Flag," "Give a book, offer a story" and others, all of them implemented from EU and US funds.
One million lei for polls and brochures
In October 2013, the association led by Saghin submitted a grant application to the National Ecological Fund, demanding almost 1.2 million lei for the implementation of a national project "that would contribute to public awareness on the need to protect the environment”. The initiators planned to reach this goal by distributing leaflets and brochures, broadcasting radio and TV spots, installation of billboards and newspaper advertisements. Important sums of money were aimed at surveys, communication training for employees of the Ministry of Environment, organization of informal meetings of the representatives of the ministry with journalists and bloggers, improving and maintaining the institution's webpage on Facebook. Thus, the project almost doubled the tasks of the press service of the Ministry of Environment, for whom the money had already been earmarked from the budget.
After receiving approval for the project, the association led by Gheorghe Saghin held a public auction to subcontract certain communication services from other companies. From the amount to be obtained by FEN, a sum of 667 800 lei was directed to the company PARC Communications SRL to "purchase advertising campaign services". Also, expenses included production of video and audio spots, distribution of 1,000 brochures and 2,000 leaflets, developing a communication strategy, conducting three-day training for five people on "Techniques for PR and communication of environmental problems". Other 460,000 lei were sent to Bright Communications Company SRL, for public opinion research services. A sum of 30,000 lei was used to purchase two laptops Lenovo, a printer and a camera, and many Unicard cards, totaling 3,330 lei. A sum of 21,000 lei has been paid to the accountant. Over 45,000 lei were paid for developing the communication strategy of the ministry, 40,000 - for three-day training for five people and 73,000 lei - for trips in EU member countries.
Initially, the project was supposed to be implemented by December 31, 2014. Two months later, the deputy-minister of the Ministry of Environment of that time, Dorin Dusciac signed an additional agreement to extend the term by October 1, 2015.
In the end, under this project, there were carried out 10 video sports and 10 audio spots, 5 polls on a sample of 4.000 persons (including Information habits and attitude of population to ecological issues, Ecological education and citizens’ awareness on environment, Perceptions and actions of citizens on ecological problems), 20 models of banners and 15 advertising models for newspapers.
In a report by the organizers presented to the Ministry in February 2015, they say that this project led to "educating and mobilizing young generation" and "the formation of positive attitudes to environment".
Some heads from the Ministry of Environment and experts share another opinion. Ion Magu, consultant at the public relations Service of the Ministry of Environment said in a report issued in July 2015 that under the project, there were performed „ low quality and irrelevant” works. Magu said that the result of the 5 sociological studies was made public just on the portal privesc.eu. in December 2014, and on Radio Free Europe, in January 2015 and he underlined that he does not know where the audio and video spots were broadcast, which is their content or thematic and where the banners and the advertisements for newspapers were distributed. "Video spots were used only to animate the international scientific conference on 5 June 2015 and these are some naive short films (...) containing poor information", writes Ion Magu. He concludes that the project cannot be continued and requires that all equipment purchased to be sent to the Ministry of Environment to be properly used.
Until this story was published, ADC Moldova received from FEN 30% of the amount stipulated in the contract. That even though, according to documents, the project was completed on October 1 this year. Gheorghe Saghin however, claims that the amount which the association would have raised from FEN so far does not exceed 15% of the total project value.
"The project is for the benefit of the ministry, but was not turned to good use"
Saghin said that the project objectives were not achieved at 100% for the team of the association that delivered to the ministry what was approved under the contract terms, "did not have anyone to communicate". "Our project partners changed, a minister, other, and there appeared large discrepancies. Communication messages, logos etc. had to be always amended. I had a constructive dialogue with Dorin Dusciac and we organized off lines for press. He showed interest to the project and he wanted to make the most of it", said Saghin.
Referring to the benefits of the project, Gheorghe Saghin mentioned the polls, which, in his opinion, could be useful for developing new strategies of the ministry. "IMAS did the surveys and revealed ecological problems; we offered very much valuable information to the Ministry of Environment, the Ministry of Health and others. We have delivered results and they should, through strategic directions, process them and develop a strategy", said the president of ADC Moldova.
He has an explanation in terms of video and audio spots "They were not broadcast anywhere because the Ministry had to decide to use them in different campaigns, thematic days. We were ready to launch them, we were in partnership with the media, but we needed financial support ".
Saghin said that the concept of the communication strategy of the ministry "to be approved and implemented" had been developed, and there were conducted trainings for ministers Gheorghe Salaru and Valentina Tapis, and when training was supposed to be organized for Sergiu Palihovici, the Government failed.
"No trips were organized. The money for surveys which we carried out, were not refunded. We paid these expenses from our funds", says Gheorghe Saghin. He pointed out that if the current acting minister wants to continue the collaboration, his team is ready, "especially that the project is for the benefit of the ministry ".
Over 400.000 lei for the television controlled by Vlad Filat
Another constant beneficiary of the public funds for ecology is the radio and TV channel „Vocea Basarabiei”, which the press ran that it would be controlled by the chairman of PLDM Vlad Filat. Lately, these benefited from projects estimated at 726.340 lei.
The last project, „Natura te priveste”, estimated at 412.000 lei, was approved on April 28 2015 when the liberal-democrat Sergiu Palihovici, former Minister of Environment was head of the administration council of the Ecological Fund. The financing was allocated „ for ecological information and education of the population with the help of radio and TV programs”. As for the TV channel „Vocea Basarabiei” the financing from FEN sources started some months later from creation (November, 2014).
The National Ecological Fund financed the radio station „Vocea Basarabiei” also in the period 2012-2013, when Gheorghe Salaru was Minister of Environment. He was colleague of the party with the former director of the station, Valeriu Saharneanu.
Sergiu Palihovici said that it is not about any conflict of interests, as he continued a partnership signed until he was invested for this office. „I can give you another example related to another agreement, by several times higher [signed with ADC Moldova], which I considered as doubtful because they had some responsibilities to the ministry, but their fulfillment is open to question. Unfortunately, I could not solve the problem to the end, though I discussed several times with Dumitru Tira”, said the former minister.
Argument: „We must educate the society”
Journalist Alexei Nistiriuc has been presenting for about 3 years the program “Ecomonitor” on Radio Vocea Basarabiei, that is broadcast on TV recently. Namely this program which is broadcast weekly is the result of the project „Natura te priveste”, financed by the Ecological Fund.
„We promote the environment protection and healthy life style. Guests of the program are representatives of the Ministry, of NGOs, scientists (ecologists, geographers, biologists). We speak about environmental policies and about the activity of the Ministry; we also organize cognitive shows about animals, plants and biodiversity. We often debate on lesser known issues”, said Nistiriuc.
Asked how he gets financing, the journalist explained that he submits an application each year, "following the standard procedure". As for the impact, the presenter of the show acknowledges that there have not been performed audience measurements. "But many state officials who come to the show say that when they go to settlements, people are informed about ecological issues. They say that they get informed from Vocea Basarabiei", says the presenter.
Alexei Nistiriuc said that so far the team of the show presented regularly reports to the Ecological Fund. “The project is no longer funded as of May. Anyway we continue, it is already included in the grid, it's a show with traditions and it is a brand of the station. We must educate society", concluded the journalist.
Over 7 million lei for media projects
National Ecological Fund (FEN) was created in 1993 under the Ministry of Environment to support initiatives and projects in the field of environmental protection. Resources from the Fund are accumulated from funds transferred by local ecological funds, payments for pollutant emissions from mobile sources, payment for goods which in process of using pollute the environment, donations and other sources. While worldwide, environmental funds are independent entities, in our country, this activated as a Direction of the Ministry, without clearly defined responsibilities. A draft Regulation of the National Ecological Fund which provides its independence to the Ministry of Environment has been developed in 2014. The document was not approved by the authorities.
Over the past 5 years (2010-2015), a sum of over 7, 5 million lei (7.707.359) from the budget of the National Ecological Fund (FEN) was earmarked for 48 projects of ecological information and education. Thousands of lei were given to publications „Noi”, „Alunelul”, „Faclia”, „Florile Dalbe”; thousands of lei- to the Public Broadcaster “Teleradio-Moldova”, network AICI TV, many public associations, Women's Association for the Environment Protection and Sustainable Development, Society of Huntermen and Fishermen in the Republic of Moldova, Wastes Management Association, Youth Organization of the Ecological Movement in Moldova. All grants were meant to develop different projects focused on ecology, publishing materials on this topic in the press, developing TV programs and subscription to periodicals.
Magazine „Natura”, whose director is Alecu Renita, president of the Ecological Movement in Moldova benefited from 1, 6 million lei from 2010 to present, including for „promoting policies of the Ministry of Environment”.
Regulations on ecological funds provide that money from FEN is allocated on a competitive basis. In reality, those interested to get a grant submit a case and request funding for specific fields - information and environmental education, tree planting activities, waste management, etc. The projects financed by the National Ecological Fund are examined based on an application in which various aspects of the projects are rated on a scale from one to ten. Experts, who are employees of the Ministry should assess whether the project description meets the priorities of the fund, whether the activities of a certain project or the budget are presented in detail or not and whether money earmarked is enough for the activities stipulated by the project. The decision on funding certain projects is approved by the Fund's Board, composed of seven members and headed by the Minister of Environment. Many times, the decisions seem to be based on political criteria.
Valeriu Munteanu: "I will bring the projects to a close, I do not want to get even with the press"
Contacted by reporters of the Center for Investigative Journalism, the acting Minister of Environment, Valeriu Munteanu said that all media projects previously approved by the Board of the Ecological Fund will be brought to a close. "There is a list of projects for the press which we pay, a fairly long list, even multiannual. For example, Vocea Basarabiei - there is a contract for many years, under which we give a lot of money. I will bring all projects to the end, I do not want to get even with the press", said Munteanu.
Head from the Ministry of Environment admits that the current form of organization of FEN is inefficient. "We need to institutionalize this fund, which is to create an agency, like in Romania, Poland and other European countries. They have been talking about it for 5 years, but the former ministers have declined a proposal to maintain the status quo, perhaps for their benefit. We have committed that by the New Year (I hope that there will be political readiness) to create this agency, with responsibilities, specifications, site, transparency, criteria, director etc", says Valeriu Munteanu.
Asked why ministers who have previously managed the Fund (some of them being party colleagues) had no political will for such reform, Munteanu said: "I do not know why they did not. I try to restore people’s confidence in our ability to improve some fields. "According to him, in the first two months since he was elected Minister, he discovered at least 20 projects that were funded, but have not been implemented or finalized.
Media expert: „Situations of conflict of interests should be excluded when public money is earmarked”
Petru Macovei, executive director of the Independent Press Association (API) said that all situations of conflict of interest must be excluded when public money is earmarked and the cases must be assessed by competent staff. „It is very important to organize a public and correct contest, the cases must be assessed by competent persons and the situations of conflict of interest or influences of any kind must be excluded”, said Macovei.
This investigation was conducted under the Campaign “Journalists for Transparency in Public Funds Management”, held by the Center for Investigative Journalism, with the support of the US Embassy in the Republic of Moldova.
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