Active Watch: Total lack of transparency at Bucharest City Hall

Active Watch, an NGO committed to transparency and good governance, this morning published a report of the first six months in office of Gabriela Firea, Mayor of Bucharest.

It finds that Firea and her PSD-ALDE allies have removed almost all traces of transparency from Bucharest City Council, creating an opaque and impenetrable administration that works against, and not for, the people of the Romanian capital.

A few edited highlights:

  • Public seats have been removed from the council chamber. Introduced (reluctantly) during the mandate of Sorin Oprescu after repeated requests from Active Watch and similar NGOs, the seats allowed members of the public to take part in council meetings. There is now no way for a Bucharest taxpayer to witness a council meeting.
  • By refusing to publish any contact details and refusing to allow public entry to the council building on days when debates are held, the city council has made contact between councilors and citizens impossible.
  • Opposition councilors are deliberately prevented from proposing and debating motions.
  • Six of the ten council meetings held since Firea’s election have been ‘extraordinary’, meaning that motions can be passed without first being debated by specialist committees.
  • Of 149 projects passed, just seven (yes, seven) have been subject to public debate.
  • There have been eight changes made to the council’s budget since June. Just one has been debated before being passed by the PSD-ALDE majority.

It is this kind of opacity that has allowed Firea to quickly turn Bucharest into a personal fiefdom. She is now very much a baron.

Some information does still leak out, however. Long may it do so.

Just last week it emerged that one of her first acts as mayor had been to appoint PSD-stalwart Eduard Armeanu as the coordinator of 19 Bucharest hospitals, responsible for an annual budget topping €228 million. This despite Armeanu having been caught with his fingers in the till while boss at Ilfov County Hospital and forbidden from any kind of public post.

Under Armeanu’s watch Florin Secureanu, boss at the Malaxa hospital, allegedly pilfered away more than €500,000 while awarding contracts for the cleaning of complex medical equipment to a jewellery shop run by his mistress. Secureanu is now in police custody and under investigation for gigantic amounts of fraud.

Tomorrow, Firea will attempt to pass another controversial motion at the last council meeting of the year: all expenditure of up to €740,000 on ‘training and professional development’ will be ‘simplified’ (meaning that it does not need to be debated, nor put out to tender). The council will simply be able to pick a company and pay it €739,999 to run a staff training course.

Trebles all round!

Meantime, traffic and public transport in Bucharest are worse than ever. So much for solving those problems in six months. There is no sign yet of the 200 new buses we were promised, nor the dedicated bus lanes for them to run on.

Oh, and we now know why the Christmas Market has been moved from its usual, prime location in Piata Universitatii to the relative Siberia that is Piata Constitutiei: in order to make way for a Radio Zu stage, probably for free concerts for the masses over the holiday period. Radio Zu, coincidentally, is owned by Intact, the staunchly pro-PSD media company Firea used to work for. See how it works yet?

Bread and circuses!

PS It is well worth following Bucharest councillor Ciprian Ciucu (PNL) on Facebook for more on Firea’s abuses of office. With the majority of the USB’s more capable councillors now USR MPs (including Nicusor Dan), Ciucu is currently a one-man opposition party.

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