Independent Artists Accuse the Ministry of Culture of Handing Out Millions to Associations with Conflicts of Interest

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Several independent cultural organizations accuse the Ministry of Culture of discrimination and conflict of interest when defining projects financed from the state budget worth 14 million lei. Minister Sergiu Prodan told Europa Libera that their remarks were “subjective” and “stupid”. On 11 June, the Ministry of Culture announced that this year it will finance 84 cultural projects developed by non-profit organizations in the country. In total, the ministry will allocate more than 14 million lei, which is almost twice as much as in the previous year (7.4 million). On 25 June, the organizations of the Coalition of the Independent Cultural Sector (CSCI) published a document criticizing the Ministry of Culture. According to the signatories, the call for projects was conducted “with deviations from regulations and procedural irregularities”. CSCI noted several possible cases of conflict of interest and “favoritism”. Directors of state institutions and godchildren In particular, independent artists have made it clear that among the associations whose projects will be funded are the heads of institutions under the Ministry of Culture, such as museums or theatres. For example, the Ministry will allocate 235,000 lei to the ICOM National Committee, an association managed by the directorate of the Chisinau History Museum, and 210,000 lei to the Bach Foundation, managed by the deputy director of the Organ Hall. CSCI believes that providing funding to such projects “raises reasonable suspicion of favoritism and conflict of interest”. On the other hand, Culture Minister Sergiu Prodan said that the ministry had followed the legal procedure regarding the conflict of interest when considering the projects. According to Prodan, in situations where a conflict of interest was possible, the relevant jury members signaled this and abstained. “The problem is not conflict of interest but non-compliance with conflict of interest legislation,” the minister said. He explained that the selection of cultural projects is “complicated” because the jury can be made up of either experts in the field who may have certain conflicts of interest, or outsiders who have no conflict of interest but who are also not qualified to evaluate a cultural project. CSCI also drew attention to the fact that among the winners announced by the ministry is an organization led by Nata Albot – Prodan’s goddaughter - which will be funded with almost 700,000 lei for the organization of festivals between 2024 and 2026. In response, the Culture Minister said that these accusations of a possible conflict of interest were “unfounded” and even “stupid”: “I am not directly related to Nata Albot, nor did I attend the jury meetings or evaluate any of the applications.” Prodan cited legislation that the list of “close persons” (relatives) does not include those bound by religious rituals, such as godparents or godchildren. Associations founded by companies, including the organizers of the Bulboaca summit Independent cultural organizations also believe that the ministry has violated the decree because it will fund some projects of public associations established by companies. “These associations do not represent civil society, they are allied products of commercial entities and aimed at improving the image of companies with public money,” says CSCI. For INSTANCE, the foundation Constantin Mimi of Castel Mimi Ltd. will receive 207,000 lei from the state to organize a classical music festival. Almost 165,000 lei, state money, will be received by the association Art and Culture Events, managed by the executive director of SRL Media Show Grup, known for organizing the Bulboaca Summit IN 2023 in Castel Mimi. Even in these cases, Sergiu Prodan’s ministry does not see any violations. According to him, the law does not forbid anyone to set up NGOs, even companies. Prodan also said that the ministry had not officially received any complaints about the way the project competition had been conducted. Some participants have filed appeals, dissatisfied with the evaluation received, and their claims are currently under review. Potential irregularities identified by CSCI also include associations registered just weeks before the competition or those that charge admission to publicly funded events. The coalition of the independent cultural sector asked the ministry, among other things, to refute evidentially all suspicions of conflict of interest and to cancel the results of the competition in case of “unacceptable” projects. Prodan said the ministry would issue a statement in due course to demonstrate that CSCI’s allegations were “unreasoned”.