Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Go directly to the PLDM. Do not pass the PCRM. Do not collect $10m.

Today Vlad Filat presented the PLDM's ideas for (re)formation of a coalition involving his party as well as Mihai Ghimpu's PL and  Marian Lupu's PD.  The offer consisted of two aspects:

Holy Macaroni!

Baddies hatching a diabolical plan to end life as we know it in Moldova?  In league with wiki-Batman and wiki-Robin? I sure hope not.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Major Surgery?

Let's assume (as many do) that Russia will never withdraw from Transnistria.  Let's also assume that the European Union will never accept as a member a country with unresolved territorial disputes.

Another half-full glass

No matter what you think about the stupidity of the 40% of Moldovans who voted for the Communists, there is one aspect which should make every Moldovan very very proud.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A glass half full

It seemed too good to be true, and it was.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Friday, November 26, 2010

Who to vote for

Apparently it's illegal to 'agitate' tomorrow and on Sunday, so I had better do my 'agitating' now:

Saturday, November 20, 2010

How to get rid of hair lice

Hair lice are notoriously difficult to get rid of.  They cling to strands of  hair with a tenacity worthy of marathon runners.  They can't be washed out with normal shampoos, and the most effective treatment is to kill the patient (in the sense of cutting off all of their hair and burning it).

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Polls Apart

Over the last week or two three different organisations have issued opinion polls showing possible outcomes of the November 28th election.  These were the Institute of Public Policy, CBS-AXA and the Association of Sociologists and Demographers.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Voter Guide

Let's keep things dead simple here:

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Best Possible Result

What would be the best possible result in November's parliamentary elections, in terms of promoting Moldova's development as a free country with a strong economy?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

A No-Brainer

The fundamental issue of the current election campaign is whether Moldova sees its political and economic future with Europe or with Russia.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Geomorphology for Dummies

Alexander Petkov of the Omega news portal has directed a wee film called "Betrayed Alive".

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Misha and Vova

Misha:  Hello Vova, how are you doing?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Game-Changer

On August 12th 1901, a ship carrying a very precious cargo sailed into Manila Bay.


Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Humanist Party's Manifesto

Following on from the declaration of Valeriu Pasat, Leader of the Humanist Party, that Moldova should re-orient towards the East (i.e. Russia), I thought I owed it to my readers to research his argumentation.  Hot of the press, here is an excerpt from the Humanist Party's manifesto:

Friday, September 10, 2010

Sound advice from Constantin Tanase

Source:  Hotnews & Timpul

"In the context of failure of the referendum on Sunday unfounded attacks on the Alliance should be stopped", says editorialist Constantin Tanase.  "The Alliance is the spoiled and capricious child of Democratic voters."


Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Referendum, Mocanu & the AIE

The referendum as been and gone.  In terms of the result, it actually delivered a resounding "yes' to the idea of direct presidential election.  In terms of its effect, the low turnout was a big slap in the face, in particular to the two politicians who saw themsleves as the next President of Moldova, Vlad Filat and Marian Lupu.  They will now have to wait and see if their ambitions can be fullfilled.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Improper Nouns

If you think about it, there is little that is more tightly connected with your identity, your persona than the name you carry.  For most of us this is an inheritance from our parents, and we live with their gift, grudgingly or otherwise, throughout our life.  Some of the braver of us change our names legally, when we think that another moniker would suit our character better.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Happy Independence Day

According to reliable sources, the following congratulation messages have been received by interim President Mihai Ghimpu on the occasion of Moldova's independence day:

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Join the dots

Banca de Economii (Moldova's savings bank) has this morning issued a press release in which it requests the Prosecutor General to investigate some loans issued (but not paid back) in the late 1990s, during the time in which the president of the Bank was one Viorel Topa.

The People's Republic of Moldova

We're just over two weeks out from the referendum on reintroducing direct voting for the president of the Republic.  Large parts of the rusophile left have announced that they will boycott the poll.  The official reasons are that (a) they believe the AIE will use the result to avoid calling new parliamentary elections, and (b) a 'parliamentary' system is more democratic than a 'presidential' one.  The unofficial reason for the boycott is that, with Voronin out of play, they don't have a candidate capable of winning the vote.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Merkeltov - Ribvedev

Angela Merkel's grand bargain offered to Russia seemed a little too good to be true when it first came out into the open, and so initially I refrained from commenting on it. It seems to be more than just the figment of a journalist's imagination, however, so merits a closer look.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Kosovo Decision

The International Court of Justice's ruling that the Kosovan declaration of independence was 'not illegal under international law' has surely given a big boost to separatist movements the world over.  The decision is likely to accelerate the splintering of countries that began with the fall of the Soviet Union 20 years ago.  It will lead to new wars of independence, with the death and suffering that invariably accompanies them.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Moldovans are Coming!

Over the last week stories have been popping up in several European newspapers regarding Romania's policy of awarding citizenship to those who were stripped of it by occupation in 1940.  I have seen stories in the Ukrainian, British, German and Italian press on this subject, and there may be others.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Sun Rises in the East

It's a well-known fact that Moldova is polarised into two camps.  One looks west, towards the European Union, while the other looks north-east towards Russia.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Russia unhinged

Russia seems to have entered a frenzied rage in response to the 'Soviet Occupation' decree of Interim President Mihai Ghimpu.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Hang in there

Last night I read a blog entry from Oxana Greadcenco, her first for several weeks.  Oxana is one of those young Moldovans who, through their protests and hard work during the summer of 2009, brought about the demise of the Communist regime and the installation of the AIE government.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Ghimpu's Decree

Mihai Ghimpu's decree establishing the 28th of June as a day of commemoration of the Soviet Occupation and of the victims of Communist rule has stirred strong emotions both within and outside of Moldova.  Before I deal with the reactions, let's have a look at the facts of the case.



Friday, June 25, 2010

Commemorating Occupation

From www.presedintie.md

President Mihai Ghimpu signed a decree declaring the day of June 28, 1940 as Day of Soviet occupation

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Free and fair, finally

On Friday, parliament got around to sorting out an electoral system which had been much abused by the Communist regime.  Here are the highlights, together with my comments:

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Wonderland

Where in the world:

  1. Would the leading religious organisation openly support a particular political movement?
  2. Would a former head of a much-distrusted secret service put himself up for election to parliament?
  3. Would the opposition claim that it is undemocratic for the people to decide how their president is elected?
  4. Would politicians fall over each other trying to establish a strategic partnership with an occupying power?
Welcome to wonderland.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Lavrovian Maths

A country that has produced many of the World's greatest mathematicians should know better. The numbers three and one aren't equal in any 'normal world'.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Economic Masochism?

This is the phrase used by Paul Krugman to describe Europe's current wave of government budget cutting and austerity.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Gumenita walks

This morning we have witnessed another failure of Moldovan justice, with the Buiucani district court releasing former deputy police commissioner Iacob Gumenita from home arrest and allowing him to be 'investigated at liberty' with respect to his role in the events of April 7th / 8th 2009.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Caption competition #2


Here's another photo (from the Xinhua news agency) worth captioning.  Let's see what you come up with.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Caption competition

Communist party lawyer Sergiu Sarbu was photographed on a recent trip to America (photo: Hotnews.md).  I thought it might be fun if we have a little competition to add a caption (please use the comments facility).

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Condemning communism

Over the last few days the 'Cojocaru Commission' investigating the activity of the Soviet communist regime in Moldova has presented its report to the interim President, Mihai Ghimpu.  The report is a solid academic work based on six months of research by members of the commission, and on an unprecedented level of access to national archives, including those of the former KGB.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Almost Friendless

Well, it's been and gone - the annual dose of silliness known as the Eurovision song contest.  Romania did well off the back of Paula Seling's amazing voice and that funny piano of theirs.  Denmark did quite well on the back of Abba nostalgia and Turkey (refreshingly & unexpectedly) gave us a dose of hard rock.  I won't even mention Armenia's apricots...

Monday, May 24, 2010

Kyrgyzstan on Prut?

From Petru Bogatu's blog:


Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, in a televised interview, compared the state of things in Moldova with that of a country which is on the eve of a popular revolt. "With regard to Moldova, we recognize that the political situation is not yet stable.  The situation may not be as acute as in Kyrgyzstan, but it is very similar to this country, " pointed out the head of government in Moscow with a knowing air.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Emergency Exit

A number of experienced Moldovan and international commentators are reading between the tea-leaves of declarations currently being made by senior Russian and Ukrainian politicians and coming to the conclusion that the two eastern powers have cut a secret deal in respect of the Republic of Moldova.

Monday, May 17, 2010

A Policy for Aging

A report released last week showed clearly that Moldova's population was aging more rapidly even than its neighbours.  A combination of low birth rates, lower mortality and emigration mean that the country's ratio of pensioners to people of working age is high and getting higher.  Couple that with the already miserly pensions being received by those of advanced age and you can see we have a recipe for disaster in the years ahead.

Friday, May 14, 2010

I agree with Lavrov!

Russian Foreign Minister Serghei Lavrov commented today that the Eastern Partnership's free trade agreements, association agreements and neighbourhood policies would impede the integration of the six countries involved (one of which is Moldova) into Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) structures.

On the "Economic Blockade" of Transnistria

A day or two a story appeared in the Russian daily "Independent Newspaper" postulating that Russia and  Ukraine are about to sign an agreement to "lift Moldova's economic blockade on Transnistria".

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Last Straw

Today, the Supreme Court of Justice has overturned the 'wet bus ticket' ("severe reprimand") given to Ion Muruianu for calling Moldova's journalists 'rabid dogs' and making rulings that breach the human rights of Moldova's citizens.  This is another step in Muruianu's (and his communist backers') reassertion of control over Moldova's judiciary.

Hero, not traitor

Transnistrian television yesterday showed footage of jailed journalist Ernest Vardanian "confessing to treason against the Transnistrian state".  In his statement, Vardanian declared that he had been working (under duress) for the Moldovan security services since the year 2000, and gave significant detail in support.

Friday, April 30, 2010

More Snake Venom

Serghei Lavrov is one of my least favourite Russian politicians.  His initiatives and appearances are invariably bad news for those of us who live under Russia's shadow.  He's an unsmiling, uncaring, non-cooperative foreign minister from the Gromyko school who has little interest in grappling with the World's real (and shared) problems.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

A wee little thought

In 1806 the armies of Imperial Russia entered the Principality of Moldova (with capital at Iasi) on their way south to retake Constantinople (Istanbul) in the name of Christendom.  They moved on through the Tara Romaneasca (with capital at Bucuresti) and ended up parking themselves on the banks of the Danube.  For six years there was basically a stalemate, with the Russians on the north side of the Danube eyeballing the Ottoman Turks on the other side and intermittent battles & skirmishes between the two empires.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Time for another velvet divorce?


The Sevastopol Lease

The Ukrainian Rada has today ratified President Victor Ianukovich's decision to lease a Crimean naval base to Russia for a further 25 years, in return for lower gas prices.

Monday, April 26, 2010

False Arguments in Favour of the Parade

A.  Everybody is going to Moscow.  If France is going to march, why shouldn't Moldova?

France and Russia have a different history to Moldova and Russia.  France is not a former part of Russia's empire.  France hasn't been on the receiving end of Russian gas and wine embargoes.  France doesn't have 10% of it's territory occupied by Russian troops.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Reducing Russia's influence in Moldova

In this post I want to list some practical steps by which Russia's influence in Moldova can be reduced and Moldova's own, unique identity begin to emerge from the post-Soviet shadow.  I'm not going to argue the point about why Russia's influence should be reduced, as I believe that is well established, and readers are invited to review my earlier posts that refer to the subject.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

I couldn't say it better myself

x
"The issue of Moldova's participation in a military parade in the Russian capital should be seen in the the light of political and geopolitical realities of today. Moldova's past history in this matter matters less, because it was manipulated by forces hostile to the interests of the sovereignty and independence of Moldova, forces that wish to maintain our state at all costs, if not in the composition of the "Russian empire", then at least in the orbit of Russia's geopolitical interests.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Don't Panic!

The first public opinion poll in quite a while was released yesterday by IDIS Viitorul.  The results are shown below:

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Let's step into a hornet's nest

I'm not a fan of gay pride parades.  They have a tendency to be noisy and lewd.  They promote a lifestyle which I personally have no interest in.  They attack some of the things I believe in and which are axiomatic to my way of life.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Snake Venom

Russian ambassador to Moldova, Valerii Kuzmin, spent part of the day handing out medals to Russian veterans of the "Great Patriotic War".  He took the opportunity to make several statements which I find offensive:

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Free Vardanean

Ernest Vardanean is an independent journalist from Moldova's Transnistria region.  According to Europa Libera,  he is well known on both banks of the Nistru for his impartial and balanced reporting.  He is a regular participant in NGO-sponsored projects designed to bring together people from both parts of Moldova - that controlled by the constitutional authorities and that controlled by the separatists.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Nuttynomics

Today's Minister of Agriculture, Valeriu Cosarciuc, has released his master plan for agriculture:

  1. Land will only be able to be owned by physical persons
  2. The maximum size of a holding will be 500 ha
  3. Land can only be sold to people who will work it
  4. The state will subsidise interest payments on loans contracted by farmers
I am, frankly, shocked by these proposals from someone who should know better but seems detached from reality.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

How to elect a President

The Constitution of Moldova has a procedure for constitutional change (via Parliamentary vote) which requires any wording to have the approval of the Constitutional Court.  Following that approval, the proposal is put on the back-burner, before being put to a parliamentary vote, at which it requires the support of 2/3 of deputies, which, using normal maths, means 68 votes out of 101.

A little bit of innocuous fun...

Our EU Council President, who art in Brussels,
mispronounced be thy name.
Thy ever-deeper union come, thy directives be done,
In Chisinau as in Bremen,
Give us this day our daily budget support,
and forgive us our squabbles
as we forgive those who squabble over us.
Lead us not into isolation
and deliver us from Miszei.
For thine are the democratic values, institutions and traditions,
For ever and at least until the next anticipated election,
Amen.

The Missing Commission

We have a commission investigating the crimes of soviet communism, and one investigating the events of April 7th 2009.  The one that is missing is a commission to investigate the 'freeness' and 'fairness' of the election that took place on April 5th 2009.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Smoking Gun

A few weeks ago there were some curious goings-on within the ranks of the AIE.  The first was interim President Mihai Ghimpu's address to the Constitutional Court, seeking to gain control over a state communications service, placing it under his authority rather than that of PM Filat's.  Then, a few days later, Ghimpu issued a request to Filat to give the presidential commission investigating communism full access to the archives of institutions subordinated to government.   These organisation's had something that Ghimpu wanted, and it seems we now know what that was.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Message to Moscow

My thoughts are with the families of those who lost their lives in the Moscow metro station bombings. Normal people, going about their daily routine, who had their lives cut short by somebody who thought that such a sacrifice was justified by the cause (whatever that cause may be).

Monday, March 29, 2010

Ghimpu @ PCRM

I just thought I would take this opportunity to remind the 43 communist members of Parliament that Mihai Ghimpu doesn't need to give them anything in return for their participation in sessions of Parliament.  In fact, they should count themselves lucky that he hasn't docked their pay.  The speaker should bear the following parliamentary regulations in mind when he takes up Voronin's invitation to meet with the Communist deputies:

The Moldovan Project

At a meeting on Saturday, the Communist Party unveiled its 'Moldovan Project'.  According to the party, it will work with 'civil society' and 'other left and centre-left political parties' to promote 'social justice, democracy, human rights and the rule of law'.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Down, but not out

Moldova's Liberal Party has been having a bit of a hard time of things lately.

Mihai Ghimpu has ended up on the receiving end of criticism from the EU, the Venice Commission,  the Communists, political commentators and even his own AIE partners for his championing of the constitutional referendum idea.  Much of this criticism is patently unfair.  The man wanted to overcome a political stalemate that needs to be overcome.  He wanted to fix things in the existing constitution that need to be fixed.  And he wanted it done by those with the authority to do it - the people of Moldova.

Friday, March 26, 2010

In defence of truth

Dear Timpul, Jurnal, Unimedia, Ziarul de Garda,

I am really fed up with the way in which the Ruso-communists and their press outlets (Omega, Noutati Moldova, Moldova Suverana, Nezavisimaya Moldova, Communistul etc) time and again distort the truth or tell outright lies.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Zimbrucare

Healthcare in the US


This week started out with the signing into law of healthcare reform in the United States. Somehow over time, the richest country on Earth managed to build one of the world's most expensive healthcare systems (as a % of GDP), and still not manage to achieve universal coverage of its citizens.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Pull yourselves together!

I don't think the Moldovan centre-right really realises just what a threat is posed to the country's future by the 'fifth column'.  It is evident that Russia has put into play most of its political weaponry in an attempt to scupper Moldova's plans to strengthen its democracy and join the European Union

Monday, March 22, 2010

On a rugby field

On a rugby field, each side has the same number of players (regardless of how important the country).  Each side gets to choose its own captain (the other team doesn't get a say) & teams change ends at half time to give each team fair use of the prevailing conditions.

On a rugby field, referees and linesmen are strictly neutral and take swift action to ensure that the rules of the game are observed (e.g. penalizing players who are off-side); minor misdemeanours are penalized & deliberate acts of violence result in the sending off and possibly suspension of the guilty party.

On a rugby field last week, Georgia beat Russia 38 - 8 to win the European Nations' Cup.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Limited Liability

Limited liability is so much a part of the furniture these days that we risk forgetting how radical an idea it is.

Before limited liability, owners of companies were directly and fully responsible for damage caused by the company to customers or the general public.   Even if you only had a few bob invested in a company, your legal exposure was far greater;  a small shareholder in a collapsed coal-mine could find themselves bankrupted by claims from the bereaved, for example.  Enterprise was being held back due to the fear of litigation.

And so, in the mid-19th century, the British government introduced the concept of limited liability and gradually extended it to cover most industries with one or two notable exceptions (e.g. the legal profession).  The Americans picked up the idea and it gradually spread to other jurisdictions as well.  From that point on, the maximum amount that plaintiffs could seek from a shareholder in respect of the actions of a company was the value of their shareholding.  Personal assets were, for the most part, off limits.

So why am I rattling on about arcane points of commercial law?  Because the balance between responsibility and liability is out of kilter.  I can set up a discount airline, rent all my assets rather than own them and as a result maintain a tiny balance sheet and hardly any capital.  I can sell lots of tickets in advance to customers who assume that my airline's finances are sound (and who wouldn't be able to figure out if they weren't).  I forget to hedge my fuel costs; the price of aviation fuel rises suddenly.  Within a month, I'm out of business and my customers are using their tickets to wallpaper their houses.

For me it's no big deal.  I hardly invested any money in the company and while it was running I was able to extract some nice dividends.  For my customers and suppliers, however, its a disaster.  Families have had their holidays ruined and a catering company collapsed because I failed to pay them for the packaged meals they were loading on my planes.

The fact is, under limited liability in its current form, management and (if they are in control) shareholders get the rewards but bear a disproportionately small amount of risk.  Most of the enterprise risk is borne by customers and suppliers.

I don't think the answer is to dump limited liability altogether.  Some degree of risk-sharing is appropriate considering that the economy and its health is in a sense a common good.  The field does, however need to be levelled a bit.

What I propose is that companies of all forms should maintain a minimum capital level which is a percentage of assets / exposures or a percentage of revenues, whichever is greater.  Furthermore, part of this capital should be held in trust at a bank and invested in safe and liquid assets.  A regulator should step in and take firms into administration when capital levels are breached.  Shareholders could regain control by pumping in more capital within an agreed period, otherwise the administrator would wind up the company in the best interests of creditors.

This 'shared liability' approach would have three beneficial effects:
  1. Shareholders would have more skin in the game and hence a higher degree of interest in risk management and in the long-term health of their business.
  2. Problems with the business model would be flagged earlier (i.e. when the minimum capitalisation level is breached, rather than when shareholders' funds are already negative and nothing can be done).
  3. There will be more money available to pay out creditors, meaning that suppliers and customers are treated more fairly and systemic effects are limited.
The downside is that business plans will need to be a bit more cautious and that shareholders will have more capital tied up in the business.  But those aren't necessarily bad things.

You can't legislate away risk.  You can, however, ensure that it is borne by the right people, understood and managed well.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Spirit & the Letter

It's not yet the right time for elections.  More needs to by done to overcome the communist legacy first.  The commissions set up to investigate 7/4/09 and the period of Soviet communism need to complete their work.  The prosecutor general needs to lock up a large number of criminals.  The judicial authorities need to be renewed.  Europe needs to come to the party with some goodies such as facilitated visas.  Investment needs to flow and be seen to be flowing.  A more pluralistic media sector needs time to overcome the eight years of brainwashing at the hands of the Communist-controlled TRM and NIT.

And yet, we find ourselves careening towards anticipated elections because of noisy complaints from the communists and misguided / uninformed advice from Europe.  The problem is that most people are failing to appreciate the difference between the letter of the constitution and its spirit.

Under the letter of the constitution, there is no problem with bringing in a new constitution by referendum and as a result having the AIE government see out a four year term.  The will of the people is supreme, and if that's what they want, that's what they should get.

The issue with that approach is not with the letter of the constitution but with the spirit.  The current document says that if Parliament fails to elect the president, then new elections should be held.  An opposing view is that voters went to the polls on July 29th not expecting to be called back for another vote until 2013.  Given the extremely aggressive approach of the communists, the opoosing view would be hard to maintain, however.

The solution is to do what I set out in a previous post.  Fix the constitution, thoroughly, legally, then go back to the people within a reasonable time frame.  More or less that would mean new elections in about a year from now.  Most importantly, it would be seen to comply with both the letter and the spirit of the existing constitution and take the steam out of the issue.

Just one further point.  Until the end of December the AIE should focus on running the country.  If they want to bicker, this should happen behind closed doors.  What we should see publicly is a united front and a common vision for the country.  Ideally this should be achieved by fusion among the centre-right parties, at least into recognisable electoral blocks, e.g. PLDM-AMN and PL-MAE

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The 'get out of jail free' card

One typical component of constitutions is the immunity afforded to public officials.  Its purpose is to ensure stability in the act of government by removing the potential distraction of legal proceedings.

Such immunity varies widely from one country to another in terms of its coverage.  In some jurisdictions it applies very widely, for example to all Members of Parliament and Ministers in the Government.  In others it can be more limited, in the extreme applying just to the President.

Immunity can also vary in its scope.  In it's most limited form the public official is still legally responsible for acts committed during his/her term in office, but any court cases are delayed to the end of the term.  In the most expansive form officials are excused from responsibility for criminal acts committed while in office and from prosecution for previously committed acts.  In many jurisdictions there are provisions for immunity to be lifted by Parliament, however this usually requires a super-majority and is rarely applied.

Systems of immunity in Eastern Europe are usually broad in their scope and expansive in their coverage.  Such systems encourage those (allegedly!) guilty of serious crimes, such as Russia's Andrei Lugovoi, to seek refuge in Parliament rather than openly face accusations at trial.

Under a new constitution, Moldova has a chance to get immunity right.  My view is that it only needs to be afforded to a select group of people (basically the three highest office holders - President, Prime Minister & Speaker).  If a minister or a deputy goes to trial, it does not seriously undermine the act of government, and these officials need to be subject to the same laws as anyone else.  Furthermore, the immunity offered should just be in the nature of a deferral of the judicial process until the function is no longer occupied.  Crimes committed must be answered for at some stage, even if committed before or during a period of immunity.

This is important.  Communist deputies and ministers who committed crimes during their 2000 - 2008 rule must answer for them, and the current AIE authorities must be held to the same standards during their term in office.

Worse, if the immunity provisions are left as in the current constitution, then we'll end up with a parliament of crooks and a government of mafiosos, all seeking to avoid justice and waving their 'get out of jail free' cards at the long-suffering citizen.

Dodon on Unimedia

Many non-communist Moldovans have been horrified in recent days by the appearance of communist Igor Dodon's blog on the Unimedia web-site.  It seems plain wrong, that Unimedia, one of the stalwarts of the anti-communist journalism of 2009 should now give column inches to one of the leading lights of that undemocratic party.

I guess this decision by Unimedia is an attempt to define itself not as 'anti-communist' but as 'pluralist and democratic', which is perfectly reasonable.  Free speech means giving a platform to all sorts of nasties who may be incredibly manipulative and with which one may not agree, but that is part and parcel of democratic discourse.

I guess that the PCRM have allowed Dodon to write this blog in an attempt to sew doubt in the minds of liberal-democratic voters and hence weaken support for the AIE.  It's not surprising that they chose Dodon for this assignment - the pseudo-liberal, educated and seemingly intelligent economist has a chance of succeeding where hardline Russian nationalists like Petrenko & Misin would fail.

On the plus side, Unimedia's comments facility will give the rest of us a chance to directly attack the nonsense which will inevitably run from Dodon's pen, a chance denied to us by the still-totalitarian pro-communist portals omg.md & newsmoldova.md.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Europa по-русски

Make Russian an official language of the European Union!

Yes, I know that EU official languages are supposed to be official in at least one member state.  I know that the existing 23 original languages create a cacophony in Brussels which is befitting of biblical Babylon.  I know that adding another language will require the employment of legions of 'eurobabblers' to translate the existing acquis communitaire into Russian, not to mention the ongoing translation work.

But think of this:
  1. Russian is a major European language and has around 280m native or near native speakers.
  2. Even though it is not the state language in any EU country, it is spoken by significant minorities in the Baltics, Bulgaria and in aspirant countries such as Serbia, Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia.  Making Russian an official language of the Union will make those minorities feel more at home, without unduly threatening the position of the national language.
  3. Having the aquis in Russian will facilitate its adoption (in part or in whole) by former Soviet States, improving the quality of their law, their ability to trade with the EU and their chances of later accession.
  4. Having ongoing EU discussions translated into Russian will improve the quality of EU - Russia dialogue and the understanding between the two parties.
  5. Making Russian official within the EU will make Russians feel good about themselves (without having to do something stupid like invading a small neighbouring country for no good reason.)
Я жду ответа от Брюсселя!

Conditional Neutrality

One of the points of discussion in the new constitution is whether the document should continue to require Moldova's neutrality.

In general terms, military neutrality is a valid option.  If a country is surrounded by peaceful neighbours and there are no immediate threats, the arguments for being part of a military alliance are nullified.  Another situation is where a country is jammed between opposing blocks and doesn't want to get caught in the crossfire (e.g. Austria & Finland during the Cold War).

In Moldova's case, neutrality has just made the country weak and defenceless in the face of very real aggressors who control a large chunk of the country's territory (the Russians and Transnistrians), so it would actually seem reasonable for Moldova to seek to enter a military alliance (NATO being the obvious one) for its own self-defence.

The problem is that, were the AIE to drop the neutrality provision from the constitution, the Communists would kick up such a fuss and misinform the electorate to the extent that the new constitution may not pass.  Indeed, Serafim Urechean indicated earlier today that the neutrality provision would not change.

Maybe we can be a bit cleverer, and use this issue to Moldova's benefit?  What if the neutrality clause were to read like this:

"Moldova will maintain its neutrality until the 31st of December 2010.  If, as at that date, military or paramilitary forces not under the control of the Moldovan state are operating on the territory of the Republic of Moldova, then Moldova will cease to be a neutral state and can enter into military alliances.  If, on the 31st of December 2010, the only military force operating on the territory of the Republic of Moldova is the Moldovan Army and the constitutional authorities have control over all of Moldova's territory, then Moldova will continue to be a neutral state, such status to be revoked immediately upon the unauthorised insertion of military force onto Moldova's territory."

Basically it would be a less-than-subtle message to Russians:  If you want Moldova to be neutral, take your soldiers home and withdraw your support from Transnistria.  Otherwise Moldova will introduce NATO forces to balance yours.

Furthermore, the Communists would find themselves arguing with an idea that is genuinely popular, i.e. the withdrawal of Russian forces.

One for the road

Minister of Transport, Anatol Salaru estimates that rehabilitating Moldova's road network would cost EUR 4bn, money which Moldova simply doesn't have.

Moldova's roads, with one or two notable exceptions (e.g. the Chisinau - Leuseni road) were in an appalling state even before the ravages of the recently ended winter.  Moreover, the cost of repairing even a two-lane highway is quite terrifying - the rehabilitation of the Sarateni - Soroca road (82.4km) is expected to cost $133m.  That's about $1.61m (EUR 1.17m) per kilometre.

So what can Salaru do?  Where can he start, given his tiny budget of 100m lei?  Here's some ideas:

1.  Call in the private sector.  Legislate / regulate to allow the construction and operation of tolled highways by private sector companies.  This should be sufficient to promote the development of new highways along arterial routes radiating out from Chisinau.

2.  Empower local authorities to collect taxes and use them to repair local roads.  All other things being equal, decisions taken at a local level on which roads to build / repair and how should be of a higher quality than those taken centrally.  Locals have a vested interest in good roads.

3.  Use some of your budget to aggressively 'splodge' pot-holes in national roads.  It's neither a perfect nor a permanent solution, but it does save lives and axles.  Use the rest of the budget on fluorescent paint to mark out road boundaries and make roads navigable at night.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Will the real capitalists please stand up?

It's obvious from the events of the last few years that something is wrong with our economic model. That said, it's a model has lifted millions out of poverty in recent decades, so we need to be careful when playing with it.

The left is of course claiming that the financial crisis and the recession which followed are to be blamed on the Reagan-Thatcher economic liberalism that has reigned supreme for quarter of a century.  They want more regulation, especially of the financial markets and the financial services sector.  They want a more 'social' approach to economics, with money being shared around (i.e. taken from one group of people and given to another).  They want governments to keep bailing out industry and make economic problems go away by borrowing more, taxing more and spending freely.

Those are great solutions if you like living in places like 1970s slowly-going-down-the-gurgler Britain or 2010 slowly-going-down-the-gurgler Greece.  If, on the other hand, you prefer living in a country with a bright economic future and plenty of opportunity, you will need to come up with some other ideas.  The bad news for my blog readers is that I have a few such ideas and I'm going to share them.

My basic view is that we need more and better capitalism accompanied by different forms of regulation.  I've already talked about one idea - moving the base of taxation from income to resource use.  Today I'm going to talk about another - empowering shareholders.

***

When you hear the word 'capitalist', what comes to mind?  Someone with a lot of money?  The manager of a Wall Street investment bank?  Donald Trump?  Those are all possible answers, but they are in fact only a small subset.

Actually most of the non-government capital investment around the world is performed by banks, pension funds, mutual funds, hedge funds and life insurers.  These organisations are all financial intermediaries, accepting deposits, contributions and premiums on a retail basis and then providing that money wholesale to consumers of capital (i.e. businesses)in the form of debt or equity.

Decisions of businesses are taken at a tactical level by management and at a strategic level by the board, whose duty is to represent the shareholders.  At the board meeting you will typically find representatives of the financial intermediaries listed above.  They appoint and sack management, set remuneration, determine risk appetite and set strategy for the business.  All well and good.

If things are so wonderful, however, why do I need to ask the following questions?
  1. How come it is common practice for bosses to get big golden parachutes even when they fail?
  2. How come top management is so grossly overpaid?
  3. How come nobody spotted the risks that hit us all in the face in late 2008?
  4. Why are most businesses run on a short-term perspective?
The answer comes from looking at the people sitting around the board table and understanding their interests. They are not the shareholders.  The real shareholders (or capitalists) are the people who entrusted small amounts of capital to their institutions - depositors, unit-holders, fund members and policyholders.  The bulk of a life insurance company's voting power on the board of another business comes not from its own shareholders, but from the assets built up by its policyholders.  Similarly the voting power of a mutual fund administrator come not from its own assets but from the contributions that other people have invested in the funds managed by the administrator.

The bottom line is that the representatives of financial intermediaries who sit on company boards are there as representatives of their companies' clients (or should be).  What happens in practice, however, is that the views of the real shareholders are largely overlooked.  Because the depositor base of a bank is so diffuse, and because the legal structure of the bank vests power in the bank's shareholders rather than its depositors, the bank can easily ignore the views of its customers about how their money should be invested.  Customers just have to trust the bank not to do anything too stupid with their money.

Even where financial intermediaries aren't involved, the views of small or minority shareholders in a business represent  little more than an embarrassing five minutes of question time at the annual general meeting.

What we have ended up with is a form of capitalism in which shareholders aren't able to execute their rightful authority over the businesses they own.  This is instead the preserve of a self-perpetuating top management elite.  They give themselves big bonuses, reward themselves for failure, appoint their sons, daughters and colleagues to key roles and run companies generally for short-term gain.

That is fundamentally why we got ourselves in such a mess in 2008 - the elite didn't care about risk management or the long-term health of the businesses they presided over.  That was the shareholder's problem, not management's.  Incredibly, we have a system in which management are handsomely rewarded if they succeed and a little less handsomely rewarded if they fail.  The worse that can happen to the management elite is that they could lose their jobs (in which case they just move on).  Shareholders, on the other hand, get to share some of the upside with managers but wear all of the downside by themselves.  Strangely enough, Marx appears to have partially achieved his dream;  Labour (admittedly of the highly paid variety) has triumphed over Capital.

***

Having mentioned Marx I now need to quote Lenin:  What is to be done?

Put simply, shareholders need to be given back control over the businesses they own.

One way of doing this would be to enhance the power of minority shareholders.  In a national democracy the majority is given the right to rule provided that they commit to respecting certain well-defined minority rights.  The economic democracy of corporate governance should be no different.  Minority shareholders should be able to veto certain decisions of the majority shareholders where these would be to the long-term detriment of the company.  Where majorities take decisions that benefit them but are to the detriment of minorities, them some compensation should be provided. Minorities, no matter how small, should have board representation.

Another idea would be to look through the balance sheets of financial intermediaries to the real capitalists (depositors, unit-holders, policyholders etc).  Financial intermediary management should exercise voting rights on the boards of other companies in line with the wishes of their customers and in proportion to the amount of capital furnished by each.

Let me give a simple example.  Suppose mutual fund A has shares in company B of 80, and that company C (which administers fund A) has shares in B of 20.  Suppose further that fund A only has two unitholders, D & E. and that D owns 75% of the units in A while E owns 25%.

Under our current form of capitalism, C gets to vote all 100 of the capital, even though 80 actually belongs to someone else.  What's worse, they don't have to consult the people who actually own the 80.

What should happen is that C's position on any particular issue where it is voting on behalf of the mutual fund should be an appropriate mix of its views and those of the unit holders.  In the example above, D's views would have a weight of 60 (75% * 80), while the views of C and E would both have a weighting of 20.

Obviously in practice company C can't go running off to seek the advice of unit-holders every time it needs to vote the shares held by the fund, however it could ask unit-holders to submit a detailed annual survey containing their views on executive remuneration, risk management, strategy etc..  These views would then be merged into a policy statement which the administration company C would be compulsorily guided by when voting the shares.  For example, using such a mechanism, the underlying shareholders could impose maximum limits on derivate investments, or insist that the bulk of top executive remuneration is earned out over the medium to long term.

Why is this all so important?  Because I believe that empowered shareholders would have curbed some of the excesses (in remuneration, risk appetite) that we saw in the lead-up to September 2008, and will in the future improve the quality of company management.  At the very least, if something goes wrong, they will have the 'satisfaction' of knowing that it was due to their decision making, not that of the (largely unelected) management elite.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Filat should sue

At a press conference this morning, Communist Party leader Vladimir Voronin made the following accusations:

  1. That the PLDM's 2009 election campaigns were funded by Romanian 'petro-liberal' Dinu Patriciu
  2. That Filat has been involved in cigarette-smuggling in the past
  3. That Filat has recently arranged the smuggling of ten truckloads of cigarettes to pay back the money borrowed from Patriciu
Not a shred of evidence was offered by the former President.  Indeed, in respect of the second allegation, Filat was in the 1990s acquitted at trial on cigarette-smuggling charges.  The case was investigated and he was found to be innocent.

Voronin needs to produce evidence.  If not, it is high time that Vlad Filat shut him up permanently via a defamation suit seeking moral damages.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The democratic 'usurpation' of power

Well, I got my referendum!  Actually I got two of them, but we'll come to that later.

The AIE party leaders announced yesterday that a referendum on a new constitution will be held by June 16.  The fact that a new document is being proposed, rather than the existing one amended, apparently takes the Constitutional Court out of the picture - their approval is only required for amendments.  Given that 5 out of the six judges are still wearing the gold watches Voronin gave them, that's probably not a bad thing.

The leaders also announced that the new constitution would be framed in such a way as to remove the necessity to hold anticipated elections following December's failure to elect a president.  The other three leaders appear to have accepted Ghimpu's view that this is the best way to proceed.

I'm not so sure.  The absence of anticipated elections opens up the AIE to charges from the Communists and their hangers-on that the AIE is usurping power and is breaching the provisions of the (current) constitution.  I think I would have preferred a situation in which a new constitution was introduced and then elections were held fairly promptly once it had been bedded down, say in spring 2011.  This approach would largely disarm the communists, as well as producing a parliament in which that benighted party had a much smaller role to play.

Communist leaders and other left wing / pro-Russia groups have been quite hysterical all day long, calling the AIE a 'junta' that has 'usurped power' and undertaken an 'anti-constitutional coup d'etat'.  They are also quoting a long list of the AIE's supposed sins, ranging from 'destroying the principle of the separation of powers' (the sacking of Muruianu as CSM president) to 'handing over territory to another state' (the Palanca debacle that was initiated by the Communists themselves).  The Party plans to initiate a referendum of its own - a vote of no-confidence in the AIE.

The bottom line for me, however, is that the current constitution (introduced by parliament) has very little democratic credibility.  It has never been voted for by the people, so who cares if it is replaced?  The new constitution will, for the first time in Moldova's history, be 'of the people', and as such it should be far more credible.

Finally, the argument that holding a referendum is undemocratic or unconstitutional is absurd.  Referenda are the highest form of democracy and should be used more often for issues of the highest importance.  The current constitution actually says that the will of the people, expressed through a referendum carries supreme legal power in the state, i.e. a referendum decision has the power to override regulations, laws, judicial rulings and even the constitution itself.

The Fear of God

Yesterday afternoon, Prime Minister Vlad Filat hosted a meeting with Moldova's two orthodox archbishops, their eminences Vladmir (of the Russian Church) and Petru (of the Romanian Church).  The purpose of the meeting, as it turns out, was to discuss the teaching of religion in schools, an idea that Filat has mentioned on a number of previous occasions.

Politically it's a smart move.  Most of Moldova's population is orthodox and is uncomfortable with the split of the church into pro-Moscow and pro-Bucharest sections.  They will applaud the sight of the two metropolitans meeting together in a common cause and this will reflect well on Filat.

Also, Filat is probably trying to ease Vladimir out of the influence of Russia and the communist party.  Working together on a religious education project may be a way to temper the (Russian) church's rather obvious links to the PCRM and the Russian government.

Constitutionally I don't see an issue with religious education (RE) so long as

  1. Atheist or agnostic parents are allowed to opt their children out into other courses (e.g. Philosophy) that would be run at the same time as the RE, and
  2. The RE progamme doesn't unfairly favour a particular faith or confession.  Filat should work hard to ensure that Protestants, Catholics & Muslims etc are included, notwithstanding their relatively small numbers in Moldova.
  3. The education focuses more on those things that various religions and confessions have in common than on their differences.
Morally, it's a good thing to do.  One of the consequences of the decline of religious faith in the West is that people have lost their fear of God.  Maybe they don't believe that he exists.  Maybe they believe that he exists, but not in the Abrahamic sense, complete with concepts of sin and judgement.  The bottom line is that most folks these days don't think they will be hit by a lightening bolt if they steal, defraud, have an affair etc.  A century ago, they did.


I'm not about to make a judgement on the rights or wrongs of religious faith, however I will make one observation:  the fear of God was a control that kept some people honest when all else failed.  This is especially so in the case of invisible, white collar, 'victimless' crimes such as corruption, fraud and embezzlement where other controls (e.g. peer pressure) were powerless.  People would refrain from committing these crimes due to the fear of an all-seeing God.

Now that fear is gone, and we're worse off for it.  Think of the massive frauds have we seen over the last decade - Barings, Enron, Worldcom, SocGen, Madoff to name just the biggest ones.  Think also of the increases in corruption levels worldwide recorded by Transparency International.

Religious education in Moldova will at the very least re-instill the fear of God into a section of Moldova's children.  It will also, one hopes, give them a basic sense of right and wrong, and of duty to their country and their neighbours.

PS:  One amusing aside from yesterday's meeting was Unimedia's publication of photos showing the cars driven by the two clerics.  Both drove BMWs.  Petru's was a bit of a banger and had standard Chisinau registration plates.  Vladimir's was a shiny new model bearing official Moldovan government plates (a clear breach of the constitutional separation of church and state).  An apt visual characterisation of the relative positions of the Romanian and Russian churches in Moldova.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Muruianu sentenced to a tickle under the armpits

Days after meting out 'justice' to the seven-minute-wonder-judge, Dorin Popovici, our beloved Superior Magistrates Council (CSM) has just given a 'severe reprimand' to its former president, Ion Muruianu.  this was in relation to his comments that some journalists are rabid dogs and a danger to society.

As with Popovici, the disciplinary action in Muruianu's case is bordering on laughable (although it's not funny at all).  Muruianu's comments about rabid journalists display a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of a democracy.

Furthermore, Muruianu also fails to understand the need to protect human rights, blaming the media for the losses of cases at the ECHR rather than the corrupted and incompetent Moldovan judiciary.  Muruianu himself is personally responsible for the loss of eight cases at the ECHR, i.e. on eight separate occasions the European Court has ruled that Ion Muruianu has breached the human rights of defendants through his judicial rulings.

It is absolutely astonishing that the CSM thinks that Muruianu and Popovici are fit to serve as judges.  Through these decisions the CSM has shown that it is failing as the body responsible for governance of the judicial system.  It is incapable of cleaning up Moldovan justice.

The problem is, if the CSM will not do it, someone has to.  This is tricky - if the Government or Parliament sticks their beaks in, there will be howls from the left that the constitutional separation of powers is being undermined.

One possible solution, however, would be a constitutional amendment temporarily placing the judiciary under European supervision.  After the garbage is removed and the judiciary has rebuilt its values system and adherence to the law and the constitution, the supervision could be removed.

It's not ideal, but probably the best option in the circumstances.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Try Again, CSM

Dorin Popovici, the 'judge from hell', has just been given a 'severe reprimand' by the disciplinary committee of the Superior Council of Magistrates.

For those of you who don't know the case, this is the judge who handed out summary justice to the young people rounded up by the security services in the aftermath of April 7th 2009.  What Popovici and his fellow judges did that day in the service of the Communist party was really awful:

  1. In a single afternoon, Popovici examined 32 administrative files and 10 applications for disciplinary measures.  If we assume he worked five hours; then he spent an average of seven minutes on each case.
  2. The 'trials' were carried out in the Police headquarters, not in the court.
  3. Defendants were represented by a court-appointed lawyer, who they had never met prior to the 'trial', who made no effort to defend them and who subsequently disappeared.
  4. Defendants were denied the right to appeal their sentences, being forced to sign acceptances late into the night after the trial.
  5. Some of the defendants were minors
  6. Some of the defendants weren't even participants in the protests
  7. Mothers of dependent children were locked up, against the prevailing law
Such kangaroo courts which deny basic legal rights to the accused are a disgrace in the 21st century.  If the Moldovan courts are to clean up their act and be fit for a country planning to join the EU, then the CSM needs to do far more that slap Mr Popovici on the back of the hand with a wet bus ticket.  Not only should he and his accomplices be summarily dismissed from their profession, their cases should also be referred to the Prosecutor for trial.

Genocide?

I woke this morning to the news that Turkey was recalling it's ambassador to the United States in protest against a congressional committee's classification of the 1915 killings of Armenians as 'genocide'.  'Genocide' is an emotionally charged word that lacks a precise definition, and as a result different states view historic events in different ways.  Armenian expatriates claim that Turkey massacred 1.5m of their compatriots in a deliberate campaign of extermination.  Turks counterclaim that the figure was far lower and that the Armenians were simple casualties of war.

My gut tells me that there is a common-sense definition of genocide that would go something like this:  "The systematic and intentional extermination of more than 100,000 members of a group sharing a certain characteristic".  The characteristic in question could be race, sexual preference, ethnicity, political views etc.

On the definition above, the key to deciding the Turkish / Armenian question is whether there was intent to kill Armenians simply because they were Armenians.  I would argue that the mass killing of Armenian civilians for no military reason shows that the intent existed.  Genocide being established, it is now time for Turkey to face up to its past so it can move on into its future.

On a related theme, an opinion piece published today by Timpul's Constantin Tanase highlights deaths in Basarabia caused by the Soviet occupation after the second world war.  The commission appointed by interim president Ghimpu to study the Soviet Communist era has now established the following as fact, based on recently declassified KGB archives:

  1. 173,684 basarabians died due to the post war famine induced by the communist authorities
  2. 74,515 died as a result of deportation to Siberia
  3. 54,618 died fighting on the Soviet side, having been press-ganged into service by their 'liberators', in breach of the Geneva conventions.
This is a total of over 300,000 people.  Remember that the population of Basarabia at the date of occupation was of the order of 2 - 2.5 million people, so we could be talking about as much as 15% of the population.  If it can be established that persons of a particular ethnicity were singled out, or perhaps those holding certain political beliefs, then we may be talking about a Basarabean genocide at the hands of the Soviet Union.

Grimm stuff.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Joy of Declassification

Since coming to power, the government of Vlad Filat has made a strong commitment to open government.  Cabinet meetings are televised live and every minister has been required to spend a few hours each month hearing petitions from citizens.

Perhaps the most interesting process, however, is the declassification of documents categorised as 'secret' by the previous Communist administration.  The documents being released provide a priceless window of access into Voronin's mind; many of them are quite routine and shouldn't have been secret at all, while others were evidently withheld from public view for very real reasons.

In any case, the documents have provided hours of amusement for journos and bloggers alike.  Today's tasty morsel can be found here.  It's a note written by Communist counsellor Oleg Reidman to then President Voronin on the 4th of July, i.e. before the July 29th election.

In the note, Reidman sets out two forecasts for the Government's budget.  The first forecast is for two months, and shows how, with local borrowing and a ban on capital spending, the Government could have met its obligations through to the end of August.  This presumably was the 'handover of power' scenario which would kick in in the event the Communists lost power on July 29th - keep the wheels on for a couple of months, then hand over to the AIE and hope for the worst.

The second scenario is more long-term (and presumably designed to cover the outcome of a Communist victory on July 29th);   It covers the period up to about the current time (February - March 2010).  It is truly frightening and contains elements that would have revolted the Communist electorate:

  1.  Reduction of public service salaries to 2008 levels (ie minus the increases handed out by the Communists prior to the April 5th election)
  2. The elimination of public sector bonuses
  3. Public servants being forced to take leave without pay
  4. The elimination of 'nominal benefits' paid to invalids, pensioners, children, war veterans etc.
  5. The dismissal of 5,000 teachers
  6. The cessation of preferential lending
  7. The cessation of a first home buyer's programme
  8. Cessation of the indexing of Banca de Economie deposits held during the hyperinflation of the early 1990s.
Even with all of the measures, the budget would have been short to the tune of 2.2bn lei, an amount which Reidman envisaged being provided in large part by the IMF, with whom the Communists had failed to reach an agreement two weeks' earlier.

What makes these revelations really embarrassing for the Communists was their comportment during the election campaigns, when they were giving away pension & salary increases as election bribes and claiming that the economic crisis wouldn't impact on Moldova; when they were scaring voters with stories about how their incomes would be cut if the opposition were to come to power.

As it turns out, the new Filat government was able to negotiate a much more sizeable agreement with the IMF and to secure substantial additional funding from the US, EU and Poland.  These funds enabled the public service to continue functioning without any of the draconian anti-social measures planned by Reidman and communicated to Voronin.

It seems that Moldova's voters made the right choice on July 29th 2009, just in case anyone was still wondering.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

France sells Mistrals to Somalia

PARIS, MARCH 2 2010

The head of the Somali Maritime Government (SMG), Abdi Garad, was received at the Elysee Palace this morning by French President Nicholas Sarkozy in what was seen by many as the start of a new strategic relationship between France and the rapidly developing Indian Ocean power.  According to Sarkozy, it is time to draw a line under the 'unfortunate incidents in our past' and to 'develop a strong commercial and political relationship between our two great peoples'.  Garad concurred, commending Sarkozy for breaking free from the 'piracy' paradigm which had coloured relations between his government and the West for so long.

The centrepiece of the new relationship is 'exclusive negotiations' over the sale of four state-of-the-art Mistral class warships.  The deal has raised eyebrows in other western capitals which still view the SMG with a great deal of suspicion.  Prime Minister Fillon was quick to justify the sale however, mentioning that it will save thousands of jobs at the St. Nazaire shipyards, and that France will not be installing sensitive military equipment on the vessels (although it will supply the email addresses of people who can). Fillon also commented that the SMG needs to be engaged rather than confronted, and that the vessels would be used as hospital ships for civil defence purposes only.

Notably, the latter claim has never been confirmed by the SMG.  Garad is on record as saying that the ships would be used for whatever purpose required, and a senior SMG commander is reputed to have said that, had the Mistrals been in place since summer 2008, the SMG would have been many more times as effective in its 'anti-smuggling' activities.

France is understood to be anxious to complete the deal by the end of April, so as to focus its attention on the proposed transfer of nuclear material to Iran and North Korea for medicinal research purposes.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Judge not

More miserable news from Moldova's awful judiciary:

  1. Dumitru Pulbere, the judge who fiddled while the Communists wantonly abused the constitution, has been re-elected as the President of the Constitutional Court.  The judges appointed to the court voted 5-1 to renew his mandate.  My guess is that the "1" was Victor Puscas, the only CC judge who emerged from communist rule with his reputation for integrity intact.
  2. Ion Muriuianu still won't go and is standing his ground on the facile argument of the separation of powers. What Mr Muruianu doesn't realise is that this dispute is not about the niceties of constitutional law.  It's about him, his abysmal performance as a judge and his lack of integrity.  If he had an ounce of the latter he would have resigned weeks ago.
European Union officials have made it abundantly clear that Moldova will not accede until it has cleaned up its courts.  While Mr Pulbere and Mr Muruianu hold the two highest judicial positions in the land, there isn't a hope in Hades of that happening.

It seems that the only way to remove them would be a completely new constitution, voted by the people, with new judicial institutions.  Gianni Buquicchio, please take note.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Independent but accountable

Justice Muruianu failed to take the advice I gave him on February 13th.  Rather than resign over his statement that the press is a bunch of rabid dogs who are dangerous to society, he has instead decided to tough it out.  The most we got out of him was a half-hearted "I regret that some people have erroneously interpreted what I said...".

While the Superior Council of Magistrates has opened a disciplinary hearing, the independent press, NGOs and politically aware members of the general public are pressing for a more rapid resolution.  Thy are mindful not just of the rabid dogs comment but also of Mr Muruianu's abysmal record as Moldova's most senior judge (among other things, he is personally responsible for 8 cases lost at the European Court of Human Rights), and the need to purge a judicial system deeply infiltrated by the Communist Party.

Last night the ruling AIE coalition attempted to remove Mr Muruianu through a parliamentary resolution of dismissal.  Due to excessive debating and speechifying, the meeting went on late into the night and eventually was terminated without the resolution being passed.  There was no quorum as the Communists walked out on and a handful of AIE deputies had disappeared off home early.

The testimony of the AIE speakers was damning, but Muruianu himself put up a strong defence.  "You can't touch me", he said; "Constitutionally the judiciary is independent of parliament and self-governing, so you (Parliament) are not allowed to dismiss me.  You're not even allowed to ask me questions."

In a sense he's right.  A democratic, fair & law-abiding judiciary should be independent and self-governing.  Parliament should not intervene so long as the profession itself maintains high standards, is accountable to the people and metes out discipline fairly to judges who fall short of those standards.

A problem, however, arises when the judiciary is not democratic, fair and law abiding.  A problem arises when the profession fails to govern its standards and discipline and loses sight of its responsibility to the people.  That is what has happened in Moldova over the last eight years, and it is a gross breach of the trust placed in the judiciary by the people through the constitution.

In such circumstances I believe it is entirely appropriate that the people, via their elected representatives, hold the judiciary to account and remove those who are not willing to abide by the democratic norms enshrined in the constitution.  Hopefully Dumitru Pulbere shares my point of view...

Thursday, February 25, 2010

MS and NM

The tale of newspapers Moldova Suverana (MS - Sovereign Moldova) and Nezavisimaya Moldova (NM - Independent Moldova) has been making headlines recently.  The facts of the case are these:
  1. Up until a few years ago MS and NM were government-owned newspapers.
  2. During the 1990s they had operated a reasonably independent editorial policy
  3. Under the communists they increasingly came under the control of the ruling party
  4. One of the conditions of PPCD support for Voronin's election as president in 2005 was that the two papers be privatised
  5. The papers were privatised, but using a highly peculiar mechanism.  The existing state companies were placed into liquidation.  Their assets (which were the property of the Moldovan people) were passed (free of charge) into the control of new companies owned by private interests associated with the communist party
  6. The new private companies took over the publication of the papers and pursued an even more pro-communist editorial line than they did as part of the state sector.
Yesterday Vlad Filat's government decided to reverse the liquidation of the state companies, retrieve the assets from the private companies and resume publication of the papers under state tutelage.

There were predictable howls of outrage from the left wing and the pro-communist press.  Omega, shocked as usual, announced that Filat was closing down the opposition press and shutting up inconvenient voices.  Even Marian Lupu joined in with a little tweet to the effect that "The process of nationalisation of MS and NM contravenes the democratic principle of freedom of expression".

As usual, the Moldovan left is using a half truth to confuse and idiotise its electorate.  The principle at stake here is not "freedom of the media", although it may appear that way to an untrained eye.  The real principle being fought over is actually the rule of law.  The assets of MS and NM were stolen from the Moldovan people by the Communist Party and then used to misinform voters.  The decision taken yesterday by the Filat government merely restores these assets to their rightful owner.

Having said that, a democratic government has no business owning media assets.  The 'fourth estate' must be independent if it is to perform its proper democratic function.  Accordingly, over the next few months, the government should sell the two newspapers in a transparent and fair auction process which seeks to maximise the financial benefit to the taxpayer.

If by the end of summer the two newspapers are still in government hands, then Omega and Lupu will have every right to complain about limits on press freedom.  The shots they have fired today, however, are cheap, unfounded and populist.

Lupu and his coupons

Have you ever had to stand in line at a supermarket while some one in front of you pulls out wads of coloured paper and meticulously counts them out to the shop assistant?  Have you ever waited while the shop assistant signs and stamps each sheet if paper and enters the serial numbers into his / her register?

This is where Marian Lupu and the Democrat Party want to take the Republic of Moldova.  A few weeks ago they came out in defence of petrol coupons, offering as an argument that there would be less competition in the market if petrol was purchased with cash.  Unfortunately that's an argument which I am too stupid to understand; everybody has cash while only a few have coupons...

Today Lupu wants to institute a system of meal tickets, ostensibly as a form of social protection for the poor.  The only advantage I can see here is political - the coupons would be a visible symbol that voters would connect with the Democratic Party.

The case against coupons is strong

  • They are of simpler design than cash and hence easier to counterfeit
  • They are difficult to control and can be used to evade tax as they are outside the monetary system
  • An expensive bureaucracy needs to be created to print, distribute and clear the coupons.  This makes them less cost-efficient than cash for delivery of social services
  • They have a limited purpose, i.e. they are designed to patronise the poor by telling them what they can and cannot buy with their money.
  • They slow down economic activity (e.g. the queueing issue I mentioned above)
I applaud Mr Lupu for floating new ideas to improve the lot of the poor.  This one, however, needs to be buried quickly.

Two of a kind

1920s Chicago was dominated by two organised crime gangs, one of which was the 'Southside Outfit' run by Al Capone.  Capone's gang focused on the distribution of liquor (illegal at the time) but also had a number of other shady operations.  Capone ordered many killings during his time in the Outfit, including the seven members of the opposing Northside gang who died in the Valentine's day massacre.

Curiously, Capone was never convicted for any of the killings.  Potential witnesses had a tendency to clam up or disappear entirely.  In the end it was the 'untouchable' Eliot Ness who managed to get Capone locked up using a  tax evasion charge, and the gangster ended his days at the infamous Alcatraz prison in San Francisco Bay.

Chisinau 2001-2008 was not unlike Capone's Chicago, minus a few of the murders.  The President's son, Oleg Voronin, appears to have been able to operate with impunity, gathering to himself immense wealth (estimated at up to EUR 2bn) while officially earning only several hundred thousand Euro per annum.  Stories abound of 'spontaneous' privatisations and of successful business owners being intimidated into handing over their assets at a fraction of their real value.  There are rumours of a Maybach and other expensive cars, as well as a castle in the English countryside (a necessary accessory for every aspiring Russian oligarch).

As in Capone's case, not a single charge has been laid against 'Oleshka' for fraud, theft, racketeering etc.  Not a single investigation has been undertaken by the Prosecutor General.

Until now.  Under pressure from the newspaper 'Timpul' the authorities have finally begun a criminal investigation into Oleg Voronin's affairs.  Timpul raised the issue by pointing out that the income declared by Voronin jr. on his tax declarations was far below the astronomical amounts that were hitting his credit card on overseas shopping trips.  And so, reluctantly, the prosecutor has begun an investigation into potential tax evasion and money laundering, although they have avoided naming Mr Voronin as a suspect.

Let's hope that the people in the Prosecutor's office are just as 'untouchable' as Eliot Ness.  Mr Voronin should note, however, that no views of the Golden Gate bridge are on offer from Penitenciary nr.13.

May the best man come third

In Romania's presidential election it was Crin Antonescu, leader of the National Liberal Party and the only leading candidate with a clear and sustainable vision for Romania.  He came third in the first round and didn't participate in the second round battle between the flawed Traian Basescu and the uninspiring Mircea Geoana.

Now Romania's PSD has dumped Geoana and elected as its president the youthful Victor Ponta, protege of the godfather-like Adrian Nastase.  In this election too, the best candidate, Cristian Diaconescu, came third.

Diaconescu, a moderate and urbane intellectual, served his country well as foreign minister in the previous PSD-PDL government.  I was particularly impressed by his firm, but reasoned handling of Romania's reaction to the events of April 5th and 7th in Moldova, and particularly his willingness to seek advice from former Romanian foreign ministers regardless of political affiliation.

Diaconescu claims that he is being monitored by private investigators, and yesterday declared that he was leaving the Party as a result.  It's the right move; the PSD smells to high heaven of corruption and Diaconescu should seek to distance himself from them.  I wouldn't be surprised if Geoana follows him into 'independence' and the unofficial embrace of the PNL.

Guardian of what?

A truly awful article has appeared in this morning's Guardian.  There's some interesting information, such as the burning down of Abkhazia's national heritage (is that true?), however the article appears to have been written in Moscow rather than London. My rebuttal is below.

Unfortunately I will have to rebut this nonsense line by line:

1. "Abkhazians and South Ossetians have not the slightest wish to be "reintegrated" into a unitary Georgian state" First of all, how do you know this? If based on opinion polls, were these conducted in a democratic environment where people are able to access all relevant points of view? Have you taken into account the views of the tens of thousands of Ossetians who have chosen to live in Tbilisi? And what of the views of the ethnic Georgians who formerly lived in the two enclaves but have been ethnically cleansed?

2. "nobody in Abkhazia or South Ossetia is interested in joining in these discussions" This is not completely true; there are politicians from both communities interested in discussions. It is true that Kokoite and Bagapsh aren't interested, but with a carte blanche from Russia, why would they be?

3. "because of repeated Georgian attacks over many years...the Abkhazians and South Ossetians have no trust in Tbilisi" Actually this works both ways; ethnic Georgians have suffered equally at the hands of (unconstitutional) Abkhaz and Ossetian militias.

4. "all they have been offered by Tbilisi is essentially a return to the status quo ante bellum" Wrong. Georgia has offered profound autonomy under a neutral peacekeeping force to both regions. This offer was rejected in favour of continued Russian occupation.

5. " the August 2008 war – sparked by Saak'ashvili's assault on Tskhinvali". My other leg has bells on and wishes to be pulled. You don't think perhaps that the August 2008 war might have been caused by Vladimir Putin's intention to invade Georgia (evidenced by a massive military build-up in the North Caucasus, shelling of Georgian villages, killing of Georgian policemen, incursions into Georgian airspace, 20 years of failed Russian mediation and peace-keeping)?

6. "President Dmitry Medvedev then promptly corrected Russia's mistake in recognising Georgia's Soviet frontiers" A truly scary statement and one which invites all hell to break loose in the former Soviet states. Think Crimea, Chechnya, Ingushetia, Dagestan, Tatarstan, Transnistria, Gagauzia, former Chinese & Japanese territories...)

7. "There is a role, too, for Georgia's western friends. They need to persuade Tbilisi to face reality and recognise the lost territories. This would then allow the international community to follow suit. It would finally pave the way for meaningful talks on how to establish viable stability across Transcaucasia – something which must be in everyone's interest." The last thing that is anybody's interests is telling a newly aggressive Russia that it's military adventures will be rewarded. Perhaps Mr Hewitt will realise this when Russia invades Scotland to protect its people from 'genocide' at the hands of the English.

A final question. What benefit is Mr Hewitt gaining for writing such one-sided drivel, and who is giving him this benefit?

Friday, February 19, 2010

Thou shalt not covet

In Parliament this morning it was revealed that Victor Parlicov the head of Moldova's energy regulator, ANRE, takes home a monthly salary of 19,700 MDL per month.

This arrangement was criticised by the Communists (even though they put it in place; go figure...) but also by a number of contributors to forums on the free press.  In a country where most earn salaries of around 1,000 MDL, 19,700 seems preposterous and greedy.  It's only natural for those earning a lot less to be envious and covet Mr Parlicov's salary.

Now convert the figures to Euros.  At current exchange rates, 19,700 MDL is about EUR 1,135.  That's about what a middle manager  or a mid-range specialist earns in Bucharest.  Note that, in the United Kingdom, it would actually be illegal to pay anyone so little, as Mr Parlicov's salary is under the minimum wage.

This brings to light a critical issue which Moldova needs to face.  The country desperately needs skilled specialists and managers in many areas.  The Moldovan diaspora probably has the necessary skills and experience to fill the gaps, and in many cases would like to come home.  But they're not going anywhere if it means cutting their salaries to a fraction of what they are currently earning in Western Europe and North America.

The simple fact is that if you pay peanuts, you will get monkeys (or even worse, communists) running Moldova's businesses and government agencies.  In order to attract the right sort of talent, salaries will need to paid which are close to those available internationally.

In the short term this is going to seem very unfair.  Mr Parlicov gets paid around 20 times as much as junior staff in his organisation, and in truth he's not worth 20 times as much.

The problem, however, is not with Mr Parlicov's salary, but with the miniscule amounts being paid to junior staff and unskilled workers.  Those micro-salaries are a function of Moldova's chronic underdevelopment in the two decades since independence.

The focus has to be on lifting salaries by growing the real economy.  Moldova needs to resume its role as a major exporter of food products to Russia.  It needs to develop service industries (e.g. outsourcing, education) that bring in foreign exchange.  It needs to substitute imports (e.g. replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy).

So, if you are one of those wistfully looking at Mr Parlicov and wishing you were earning his salary, my counsel is to be part of the solution:

  1. Bite your tongue; many of those earning good wages have actually earned them though experience, training, hard work and initiative.
  2. Equip yourself for the modern economy.  Learn English, Spanish or Chinese.  Acquire skills that will equip you for sunrise industries such as IT, biotech, renewable energy.
  3. Work hard, work smart and prove your value to your employer.
  4. Put a good resume together.  Stick at your job for at least two years before moving on.  Select your next role so that it helps you achieve your long-term goals; don't fall prey to short-term expediency.
  5. At the right point in time, set up your own business using the capital and skills you have accumulated, as well as that clever idea that's in the back of your mind.
Do all this and you will wake up one day to find that you have become Mr Parlicov.  Better still, you'll find yourself working in a country where even juniors can earn a decent living.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Sounds of Silence

Renowned 'Unionist' Mihai Ghimpu stated yesterday in an interview with a Russian publication that "Moldova will never unite with Romania"

In response to this statement I was expecting songs of adulation from the Moldovenist left.  Where was Grigore Petrenco, who should have praised Ghimpu for being the greatest 'Statalist' of our time?  How come we didn't hear from Vladimir Turcan, who I thought would be commenting on 'Ghimpu's gift for bringing people together'?  Where was Marian Lupu and his comment on how wonderful it was that 'Ghimpu was ending Moldova's political war'?

Nothing.  Nada.  Zip.  Silence

The truth is, with this one statement, Ghimpu has almost completely disarmed his opponents.  Unionism was really the only tangible thing they could hold against him, and that just went up in a puff of smoke.

NB:  For those who are getting worried that Ghimpu has 'lost the plot', I believe his statement does not reflect any change in his own beliefs on the identity question.  It's really just a recognition that the internal situations of Moldova and Romania, as well as the geopolitical landscape, make reunification virtually impossible at the current time.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Three things I admire about...

Mihai Ghimpu
  • His honesty and directness ("I am a Romanian.  Not my decision; that's how my parents made me.")
  • His willingness to put the good of the country ahead of himself and his party
  • His humility and openness (long may it continue, hopefully power will not corrupt him)
Vlad Filat
  • His managerial ability and business-like approach
  • His temperance when faced with intemperate opposition
  • His desire to improve the lot of the Moldovan people
Serafim Urecheanu
  • His resilience in the face of communist persecution from 2001 to 2009
  • His pragmatism on relations with Russia (not that I necessarily agree with his views...)
  • His sensible leadership of Chisinau in the very difficult economy of the late 1990s
Marian Lupu
  • His decision to leave the communist party, which opened the door to democratic government
  • His eloquent Romanian (or should that be Moldovan, at least politically?)
  • His ability to toe a different line while (just) managing to keep the wheels on the AIE
Vladimir Voronin
  • That he never quite managed to make Russian a national language
  • That he failed to unite the country with Russia and Belarus
  • That he stopped short of signing the Kozak memorandum