Gabriela Schmutzer, head of the General Directorate of Social Assistance and Child Protection (DGASPC) sector 6, sent Ciprian Ciucu, the president of the National Agency of Civil Servants, an Easter gift. A bottle of Moet & Chandon champagne, a Hennessy bottle, foie gras and other delicacies. The price of the basket is over 800 lei. The information, revealed by Ciucu himself, who announced that he had sent the gift back, aroused terrible anger on social networks.
At first glance, the reaction seems disproportionate. Yes, the amount spent by Gabriela Schmutzer, one of the best paid employees of the Romanian state (salary of 5,000 euros per month) is equivalent to the budget allocated for feeding an institutionalized child for several weeks. But when you compare it to the industrial-scale robbery patronized by those who are five steps higher than Frau Schmutzer in the hierarchy of budget predators, the amount is still ridiculous. So is the moral foul. The systematic embezzlement of the Health budget, operated by the barons of the medical system, politicians and uber-doctors alike, has had and still has much more dramatic consequences, as we can see today.
However, the feeling of outrage mixed with disgust at the back hander given by the head of DGASPC sector 6 is fully justified. For two reasons.
First of all, because it reminds us that this is the rule in the state institutions, not the exception. The reaction to the Moet champagne bought from the money allocated to needy children is the reaction to all the champagne bottles bought these days from the taxpayers’ money, to fill the already full pantries of thousands of incompetents and thieves who populate the state stratosphere.
Secondly, because it overlaps with a gigantic heartbreak caused by the thought that this crisis will be settled, like the one in 2008, at the expense of millions of honest, hardworking Romanians, many of whom have lost or will lose jobs, while parasites at the helm of many institutions will continue to do sloppy work, ignore the needs of those they should serve, and spend their time inventing new ways to embezzle public money. And as the private economy is writhing in agony, they will continue to insensitively send baskets to each other, as the distruction left behind by COVID 19 had nothing to do with them, because they live on another planet, protected against such accidents.
It is notorious that all the leaders of the public and local administration send to one another with maximum generosity, since it is not their money they send, rich baskets for Easter, Christmas, New Year, National Day, March 1, March 8, birthdays, name days and under any other pretext they can invent. And they just wouldn’t be stupid to send a carnation and a Eugenia.
The basket sent by Gabriela Schmutzer is average in value. The top ones, which can include collectible wines, rare cognac and a Mont Blanc pen, reach a few thousand lei a piece. Obviously, they are not for all civil servants. They are calibrated with great precision to fit perfectly on the recipient’s rank.
The greater the potential benefits or „career” risks that a certain boss embodies, the deeper the bow expressed through the basket. How much do these bribes disguised as delicate gifts cost, cumulatively, at the level of the entire Romanian state? By no means as much as a local baron steals in a year, but be convinced that this sub-sub-sub-sub-chapter of the budget, well hidden under the benign name of „protocol”, reaches a few million, if not tens of millions of euros.
I’m really curious if Ludovic Orban will dare to use this outrageous example of money literally taken away from the mouths of ill-fated children (even if it under the authority of the Local Council of Sector 6), to ask the Control Corps to check all budgets spent on gifts by the institutions under his subordination. If it is not imperative to make such a gesture now, as a sign of solidarity not only with children who need state protection, but also with the millions of Romanians who do not sleep at night wondering if they will have something to put on the table at the end of the crisis, I don’t know when it will be!
In such moments, the arrogance of and thieveries committed by the chieftains of civil servants’ tribes and the chronic misuse of public money, expressed even by a minor waste for their standards, such as a luxury gift sent at Easter, irritate 1000 times more than in times of relative prosperity.
Today, such gestures and the reaction of the Executive to them weigh decisively in the verdict given for the performance of leaders: are they on our side, on the side of the people who finance, through taxes paid, the bureaucratic apparatus or are they on the side of those who abuse the positions of power they hold and transfer to their own pockets smaller or larger chunks of public money? Are they on the side of serious and responsible people, or on that of the thick-skinned?
In the crisis that awaits us, will the Orban government leave all the burden only on our shoulders and turn a blind eye to the small and large „traditional” rubbish of the predatory caste or will they intervene firmly, sanction excesses, scrutinize with a magnifying glass every unjustified expense, will they curtail privileges, block all non-essential acquisitions, tighten the belt to the maximum extent possible, so as to free up the resources needed to support the private economy, the only one that can help Romania get out of the impasse faster?
For now, there are no signs that Ludovic Orban understands that his political survival depends on the answers to the above questions. Nor that the percentages in the latest opinion polls could evaporate quickly, because society has entered a different logic.
Active and responsible Romania, which carries the burden of the state, has entered the „survival mode”. It will punish mistakes much more harshly than in calm times and will be much less willing to tolerate double standards and the absence of solidarity. As seen in the furious reaction to the announcement of the conclusion of a „so-called agreement” between the Ministry of Interior and the Orthodox Church, interpreted as a mockery at all those who strictly follow the recommendation „stay home”! And it’s just the beginning. They will wait and demand, more and more strongly and impatiently, quick, convincing and firm demonstrations that the leaders of the state are aware of the gravity of the situation and that they will take exceptional, unprecedented measures.
P.S. What does unprecedented mean?
Exactly 20 years ago, in April 2000, when I was the editor-in-chief of “Evenimentul zilei,” also at Easter, I published an investigation carried out by incognito reporters (photos at the end of the article). Inspired by the caravans of cars that were flowing continuously through the yard of the Ministry of Agriculture to unload the „baskets”, we also sent a few lambs to some dignitaries. From the Ministry of Agriculture, but also from other institutions, including the Parliament. I also sent a lamb to the former head of SRI, the late Radu Timofte. Not in vain, obviously, but against a small service.
They all received them from EvZ incognito reporters, almost without asking who the fictional characters were who sent them the back handers. They were satisfied with some stammering, „I’m Georgescu, you know, I have a problem to solve, I wrote you a memoir, but here’s a lamb too, where do I leave them?”
Radu Timofte, the vice-president of the Senate Defense Commission at that time, the one who would be appointed, a few months later, as the head of SRI told us, without the slightest hesitation, to take his lamb home. A few hours later, the journalists were chatting with Radu Timofte’s daughter, who had asked them to leave the lamb in the kitchen and offered them a coffee. It seemed so natural to them to receive a gift from people they had never heard of in their lives, without asking where the lamb came from, that in one day we managed to deliver, without any effort, dozens of back handers.
The photos I published from the big unloading of lambs from the yard of the Ministry of Agriculture, but also the conversations with the dignitaries caused a stir at that time.
No one had ever thought of putting a telephoto lens on the building in front of the Ministry of Agriculture and photographing what was happening in the yard during the Holy Week. And even less to test the intelligence and conservation instinct of a Senator, Vice President of the Defense Commission and future Head of an Intelligence Service, but also that of a former Interior Minister. The fuss lasted about a week. Obviously, it resulted in no dismissals. The Head of the Government was Adrian Năstase, and the Head of the future Head of SRI was Sorin Ovidiu Vântu.
In the following years, I repeated the experiment, with other dignitaries, with other baits. With the same success. With the exception of Timofte, who did not answer the phone, many other dignitaries received various benefits or just promises. With the same nonchalance, as if our experiment had not existed.
Do you think that today, after 20 years, things have changed? I would be surprised. The gift made by Gabriela Schmutzer from the money allocated to the orphans proves that the Romanian state still pursues its habits, as if even the DNA were still the PNA from Nastase’s time.
And yet, if the IMF’s predictions come true, namely that the coming recession will be as terrible as the one in the 1930s, our survival may depend on the „unprecedented” measures the state will take. First of all, against itself. And which will have to have the effect of radically changing the relations between dignitaries and citizens, the attitude of all officials towards public money and a reassessment of what they understand, concretely, through ethics and honesty, in accordance with the new requirements.
I can understand the skepticism about such a „utopia.” However, if only half of the gloomy predictions come true, the force with which the crisis will strike this time will be of a magnitude that will force us all, including the intangibles and imperturbables of the state structures, to changes that today we dare not see as possible. But for these to become reality, a strong feud must first begin with all politicians who will try to protect the status quo.
In short: if Orban and his ministers do not understand that they should quickly launch an „unprecedented” operation to revolutionize the way the state works, down to the smallest detail, they will be swept from power with a speed that they can’t even imagine.