Opinion: “PAS Subjugates Mayors through Bribery and Blackmail”

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The ruling party continues to take revenge for its failure in local elections by luring local elected officials to its side
Semyon ALBU, RTA: After the local elections, the ruling party convincingly proves that it is still possible to fight when the fight is done, and quite successfully so. Especially when you have unscrupulous opposition politicians, ready to make any “deals with the devil” for their own benefit. Last week I already wrote about how due to local bargains the “yellow” politicians are getting their representatives into the leadership of the districts. The trend is steady: in Cahul, the son of a PAS deputy became chairman thanks to a joint vote with PSRM. The so-called “mayors’ forum”, organized by the Government and the Congress of Local Authorities and held under the auspices of the President, can be considered the second half of the rematch. Representatives from 700 of the nearly 900 localities, including 580 mayors, were present. In addition, the entire top management of the country was there, too. Formally, this gathering was organized to discuss local development, available funds and prospects, share experience and strategies at expert sessions. In fact – and it was obvious to all participants – the forum was a setting-up event at which the regime, without much politeness, cursory explained the “sticks and carrots” approach to the elected mayors and what they can expect depending on their behavior. The first bonus announced by Maia Sandu was her initiative to increase the salaries of mayors, their deputies and secretaries of local councils. In conditions of budgetary shortages, such generosity certainly does not look like a bribe, not at all! As in the case of ministers, the increase is justified by “the impossibility of bringing the community to prosperity with paltry salaries”. The Prime Minister, who attended the forum, showed a keen willingness to realize the president’s will by making the necessary budgetary adjustments before the end of the year. However, he set a “precondition”: the presence of “honest and decent mayors” and the cessation of geopolitical talks, which should give way to explaining to people “the importance of European integration”. Curious, isn’t it?  Let’s move on. As we remember, even before the elections, the authorities began to hint unequivocally that ideologically unfaithful mayors would be “deprived” of the money. On Saturday, when asked by the head of Rusestii Noi commune whether primars’ offices would be evaluated and financed according to political criteria, Sandu confirmed that European aid would indeed be distributed only to those localities that support European integration. Later on, the speaker Igor Grosu mentioned the same principle. In other words, it seems that the idea of “geopolitical segregation of mayors”, which many people perceived as an idle pre-election threat, not only survived after the elections, but evolved into a political tool. However, the president stipulated that the state funds would be further divided among all districts, towns and villages, regardless of their political coloring. But there are very big doubts. The authorities have the popularized national programmes “European Village” and “European Village Express”, through which local authorities’ requests for supplying villages with water and sewerage, repairing public institutions, street lighting, construction of landscaping facilities and other projects are financed. Sandu points out that most applications are approved and funds are received even by “non-European mayors”. However, with a large budget shortage and given the electoral challenges that next year will be more acute than ever before, we cannot rule out manipulation of access to the programme funds and the order of funding applications, where the money will be received only by loyal mayors who are willing to promote European integration and Maia Sandu’s re-election. It seems that the defiant local chairs will have to rely solely on local budgets, which are so meagre that they are often barely enough to pay salaries. And even then, if we recall last year when budgetary employees’ salaries were raised, city halls fell in despair because there was simply no money for it. It is clear that financing any infrastructure projects is out of the question. In general, the “mayors’ forum” was successful for the government as they managed to gather the majority of elected mayors and convey its simple message. Either you are a “good person”, explain to your voters the right things and are subsidized by national programmes, EU money and receive a good salary. Or you are exiled from the center and are left without money and bonuses, with no opportunities to develop the accountable locality, but with the real risks of legal trouble: if you don’t support joining the EU, then perhaps you are a “bad person, a thief and a Kremlin agent”? Quite clear range of possibilities. Which of these options do you think is more attractive? Before the local elections, the authorities made serious efforts to attract hundreds of potential mayors to their ranks, and achieved great success in this field. But no one intends to stop, and the migration of mayors to the “yellow camp” will continue to be provoked, on the one hand by stimulating, and on the other hand by scaring all those who are hesitant and especially stubborn. Just like during Plahotniuc’s era, whose ESDP at its peak controlled the overwhelming majority of primars. However, few of them remained loyal to the democrats after the fall of the almighty oligarch. The same awaits PAS. By the way, yesterday reports came that the Aspen Institute in Romania - a non-profit governmental organization - awarded our President with a prize named after the Romanian diplomat Mihnea Constantinescu for, imagine, “values-based leadership”. Well, if blatant bribery and blackmail are now considered values on the other side of the Prut...