INTERVIEW// Ion Sturza: „The public perception, which is not far from reality, is that the system is deeply corrupt”

Madalin Necsutu
30/04/2021
Wall-street.ro

Former Prime Minister and President of the Foreign Policy Association of Moldova (APE), Ion Sturza, gave an interview for the foreign affairs bulletin of Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) and Foreign Affair Association in Moldova (APE) in which we addressed issues related to the justice reform in Moldova and how it could be done for the benefit of citizens. We have also discussed the political class and the best ways to proceed with the judiciary reform in order to unlock trust, but also the funds of Moldova’s external partners. We are inviting you to read the full interview below:

What would be in your opinion the pillars of a successful judiciary reform in the Republic of Moldova? Is judicial integrity the key to judicial reform?

Of course, integrity is the key to this reform because we have been dealing with justice reform ever since the first day of Independence. Exceptionally big efforts have been wasted, but also money. One of the biggest sponsors of this process was the United States. A few years ago, they made a report announcing that over 60 million dollars have been spent on the justice reform in the Republic of Moldova. Not to mention the budgets that have been allocated by the European Union or on the bilateral level. Unfortunately, this is a kind of saga, a serial with no end. Even during my time in Government [1999], we developed some fundamental things such as the Criminal Procedure Codes.

However, I don’t know what could be reformed today. What else could be invented but to implement the reforms? The Superior Council of Magistracy (SCM) was established as an independent and self-governed body of magistrates. Theoretically, the political system has no longer leverages to influence justice.

To get back to the judiciary, we need to talk about credibility and integrity. The public perception, which is not far from reality, is that the system is deeply corrupt and that all decisions are made according to the size of the wallet [of one of the parties] and that neither citizens nor economic agents can be sure that they can be protected by law and this system. And that is the fundamental problem. This is I think Maia Sandu’s main stake or the stake of the newcomers in politics - to still try to make this system work for the law and for the people.

How do you assess the political pressure put on the Constitutional Court in recent months? Who is doing that and for what purpose?

The stakes were too high. On the one hand, some wanted early elections because they look good in the polls. Others understood that they not only have no chance to get a good score but also to enter the Parliament. Thus, the stakes became very high.

After all, politics in Moldova means to influence, money and many other things for those who practice it. Therefore, the pressure was exerted, taking into account the previous experience, because the Constitutional Court, especially after 2000, has been very flexible in interpreting and reinterpreting the Constitution in the interest of certain groups of influence. Sometimes, it was even materially stimulated. They have tried again this time, but it didn't work. Or rather the influence was more in the area of “principles and values”, in the area of ideology and less in the area of material incentives.

Are early parliamentary elections a certainty now after the Court's decision or can we still expect surprises from the current opposing parliamentary majority?

Nothing is certain in Moldova. Obviously, we have a major numerical imbalance between Maia Sandu and everyone else. Today, only Maia Sandu and PAS want early elections, while everyone else doesn’t.

It is clear that the fight is not over yet, but this decision of the Constitutional Court is a very important step in triggering early elections. I believe that everyone in Chisinau should resign and accept that sooner or later these elections should take place. The sooner the better, because this moral and legal disaster in Parliament can no longer continue.

The closed caste that works according to its own rules

There are many cases reported in the press regarding the integrity of certain magistrates. The cases have been made public, being well known to the general public. How does it happen that such people end up with key positions in the judiciary? How is this phenomenon explained?

It is because the system itself chooses them. And the system is not monitored by society. It is not influenced for better or worse from the outside. They took advantage of the autonomy of the system and created their own internal system of protection, promotion, which is based on anything but competence and meritocracy.

There are also exceptions, but as you have seen, all those who are the exception are in one form or another expelled from this system. It’s a major problem to break this group matrix. Maia Sandu’s attempts, sometimes desperate, to bring the external evaluation can also preserve this system. We can take the example of General Prosecutor Alexandru Stoianoglo, whom I’m still giving credit of trust, and who has been selected through the process chosen by Sandu.

Today, however, a large part of society, including Maia Sandu, is challenges Stoianoglo. At the same time, I think that if it had been someone else, Sandu's favourite for instance, would he\she have been able to break this system? I doubt it as I think there are no quick or miraculous solutions. It is a lasting thing that should be taken step by step. And here we could take the example of other countries. Maybe even from Romania or other European countries, but let's not have illusions. This is our society. As long as we are poor, as long as we have a totally corrupt political system, a non-transparent economic system, we cannot create a haven of transparency, professionalism and integrity in the judiciary.

Why do you think the judiciary is reluctant to the idea of external evaluation?

Even if some would consider themselves less targeted or in danger of this evaluation, this caste does not want to have any cracks. Any small crack in this internal process of nepotism, relationships and kinship, dependence on each other, which exists today in the judicial system of Moldova cannot be accepted.

Those in the judiciary should also understand that they cannot be out of public control. Even if they want to be out of political influence, in the end, the Parliament is the exponent of the people’s will and the Parliament is the one that promotes the rules of the game.

Here we should not exaggerate when we’re saying that the system should be completely out of political or public control.

Modest results of the National Integrity Authority

How do you see the functioning of the National Integrity Authority (ANI)? What else can ANI inspectors do for the better functioning of the institution?

For example, in Romania after 2004, an entire system of law enforcement institutions was created. These institutions were interconnected and worked in parallel. This also refers to the Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI) and the National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA) and to ANI and the judicial system that started front-end the cleansing of the Romanian society, not only of ​​politics. Because the legislation was quite permissive. And we have witnessed some really spectacular trials. Following the ANI decisions, the careers of many senior officials have ended abruptly.

I don’t know to what extent this matrix experience, which in Romania they call it “parallel state”, could be built in Moldova. But the idea itself is absolutely ok. We have practically identical legislation and a process of employees’ selection at ANI, but the result is very modest. Because it is about the perception that ANI doesn’t touch politicians. And ANI has started with some extremely marginal or superficial cases, leaving aside the more serious ones.

If ANI imposed a more rigorous control on the politicians and civil servants in a correct and lawful way, I don’t think any of the local politician or elected official in Moldova would survive it.

I think it's a “youth disease.” Many institutions in the Republic of Moldova, and here I am referring to the Competition Council, ANRE and others, which are quite independent, have good legislation as support, but are very shy in exercising their functions.

Resolving major cases

How can the trust of Moldovan citizens in justice, one of the least trusted sectors in public polls, be restored?

It could be restored if there was a finality at least on the big cases. With regard to big cases, it is not only the historical justice or the punishment of notorious criminals that matter. This is also an element of public cleansing, where the system would give a very clear signal. It could say: “No matter how much pressure and how much money are at stake, we have solved the cases and did justice to you, citizens, because they’ve stolen from you!”

And this could have an extraordinary psychological effect. The same happened in Romania with prime ministers, famous businessmen, etc. And this has played an important role in the positive public perception regarding the justice system. This is also needed in Moldova, but unfortunately, things are not only dragging on here, but they are also derisory in this regard.

I don’t see how this justice system could change the public perception. Moreover, we are looking at the macro level and many of these big issues are unresolved. But at the same time, tens of thousands of people have been clashing with the justice system in the Republic of Moldova every day. Almost every citizen has a problem that should be resolved in court. So, through personal experience, often a dramatic one, they lose confidence. Because they may not have had the right to a proper investigation, they may have been subjected to pressure to pay bribes and many others.

And I don't learn about these things from the press, every day I face people who come to me, asking to give them 10,000 Euros to pay a prosecutor or a judge, because their child got into trouble. These are dramatic things. Even if we are going to solve these problems or major cases, we need to do something for ordinary citizens facing this system.

Speaking of major and difficult cases, do you think at least a small part of that stolen billion will ever be recovered?

It's a shame. I think that the mere fact that there is a party named after the biggest crook in the recent history of Moldova is a big shame. If we had more dignity, we would erase not only the party but also this name. This is a big shame and it shows how rotten the society is, but also the political and economic systems.

Based on how the prosecutor's office is acting today and the investigations, the chances of recovery are null. It was an extremely trivial scam in itself, but with treacherous ramifications that you can't take it head-on. Even if we brought and put Ilan Șor and a few dozen other accomplices behind bars, this alone will not help to recover at least any part of the money.

There are other ways of recovering that money. I've said it publicly before as the accomplices were not only in the country, they were also abroad. I am referring here to the correspondent banks, to large international banks through which this money has passed and which have violated all national and international rules of financial prudence. They are subject to liability and should be held accountable for recovering the damage as other states do and there are many examples in this regard. We, however, are being led astray, in my opinion.

Electoral chances and European money

Regarding the parliamentary elections, what good strategy do you see on the right-wing?

In Moldova, there is no exactly right- and or left-wing parties. The pro-Europeans think of themselves as being on the right-wing, and the pro-Russian and Eurasian vector on the left-wing. However, I see right-wing parties that could work with the East and left-wing parties that could integrate into the left European political families.

The right-wing parties have now the chance to get a historic score in the upcoming parliamentary elections, which will allow them to form a majority and a one-color government in Chisinau. Unfortunately, when we talk about these right-wing parties, we refer primarily to PAS, which for me is still an enigma of what it represents.

In fact, the credit of trust will be given to Maia Sandu. The other parties on the right-wing have virtually no chance of entering Parliament. It's a sad thing. Maybe if they formed a wider coalition and focused on challenging anti-European and anti-Romanian left-wing competitors, they might have a better chance. But I know what they are going to do, namely, they will challenge Maia Sandu. As the former ally Andrei Năstase is doing with great enthusiasm, to our great regret, and as the so-called unionist parties do. And so, all the weight and responsibility of the so-called pro-European right lie on Maia Sandu’s shoulders.

Does external funding depend on judicial reform? If reforms were launched, would more money come to Chisinau from Brussels?

Not just from Brussels. A surprise was also Romania, which so far has not talked much about the problems of justice and corruption in Chisinau. Not that they were ashamed, but because they had corrupt and non-transparent correspondents in Chisinau.

Now, apparently, the funds that should be allocated by Romania to the Republic of Moldova are conditioned by the fight against corruption, which is a good thing. I believe that, in general, this conditionality has been inspired by Chisinau. Desperate of putting those in Chisinau to work or making them more aware, I believe that Maia Sandu and some politicians in Chisinau are trying through Brussels to condition the allocation of funds, which is crucial or very important for the Republic of Moldova through the reform of the judiciary or the fight against corruption.

Thank you!

Madalin Necsutu
30/04/2021



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