API’s Investigations Department comentarii | 1308 views
7 mai 2004
Access to information rambling between bureaucracy and bias of justice
The freedom of expression and the access to information are two fundamental rights which our society has obtained since its independence. The access to information, as every citizen’s right, is almost neglected. State institutions either do not know the law, or knowingly ignore it. This tendency has been more obvious in the past two-three years. Officers are afraid to speak with reporters. And not because they do not have the requested information, but because a drastic control has been installed in the state structures over the circulation of official information, especially of documents. The individuals suspected of having provided to the press information in a legal manner, but which reveal less legal actions of dignitaries, are dismissed with no reason. The press is provided only the information that is convenient to the power.
CCCEC – an unconquered citadel for the press?
One of the unconquered citadels for the independent press continues to be the Anti Economic Crime and Corruption Center (CCCEC). Not once have the employees of this structure been accused of fighting only against small firms and the economic agents that do not play the power’s game. The information on which CCCEC representatives speculate in the official press does not by a long shot justify the hopes invested in this structure, created especially to fight against the large corruption. Or, in its almost two years of activity, the Center has not locked up any corrupt dignitary, although the head of the state has stated not once that “everybody is corrupt in our country, from head to toes”.
During our investigations we found that sometimes we were investigating in parallel with CCCEC. And so that it does not come out that the press is more effective than those paid large amounts of money from the public budget to discover the large corrupt ones, as well as in order to be more credible in front of the readers, we considered it was correct to act in cooperation.
The answer came in a year
The first approaches were sent on 4 March 2003, in which API requested from the CCCEC information on the fate of the criminal cases initiated against high dignitaries: ex-Minister of Transports Anatol Cupþov and ex-Prime Minister Andrei Sangheli. The answer came not in one month, not in two, not even in three, although the law provides for the receipt of an answer within a 15-day term. On finding out that the CCCEC initiates and dismisses cases upon order, and its employees receive exorbitant salaries and still abuse of their powers, API requested again information from CCCEC on 7 July 2003. This time – about the cases tooled by the center and already sued, the sanctioned, dismissed or condemned employees for various violations during their activity. In a different approach, API requested the same information from the General Prosecutor’s Office /GPO/, since prosecutors are empowered to supervise the Center’s lawsuits. The two institutions, aiming mainly at putting on the accused’ bench those violating the law, by refusing to respond to our request for access to information, knowingly defied the law, thus infringing not only on API’s rights, but also on the citizens’ constitutional right to truthful and timely information about public interest matters. As a result, API filed a lawsuit against CCCEC and GPO in October 2003 for their refusal to provide the requested information. The court partially judged in favor of API in both cases, obliging the respective institutions to provide the requested information, but found groundless the journalists’ moral and material claims. Although in the CCCEC case the court pronounced the sentence on 27 October, and in the GPO case – on 7 November, neither institution executed the court decision in time. If the General Prosecutor’s Office provided us the information on 15 December 2003, then CCCEC decided to observe the law and execute the court’s decision only on 20 February 2004 – a year from the request for information. Some kind of promptness and competence this is!
From CCCEC’s very short answer we found out that the Cupþov and Sangheli cases had been dismissed, without an explanation for the reasons for dismissal, even if it was about an ex minister and ex prime minister, and not some pilferers. Especially that the Cupþov case was initiated when he was minister and the public opinion was curious to find out what honey barrel the minister had been eating from. As to the employees’ professionalism and honesty, CCCEC made reference to data for nine months of the year 2003, although at that date they must have already had the complete data for the entire year 2003. What did CCCEC want to hide by overlooking the last three months? In nine months of the year 2003, according to the CCCEC response, there were sanctioned “57 individuals, of which 11 were fired, and the rest received sanctions such as warning about partial correspondence to their positions, severe reprimands or reproofs”. As to the dismissed cases, the Center’s employees are champions at this chapter. They are bad at referring cases to the court and bad at all – at efficiency and professionalism, because in 11 months of 2003, sentences had been pronounced only in 8 cases tooled by the Center, according to the GPO response. From a piece of information presented by CCCEC in a press conference and published in “Moldova Suveranã” on 11 February, we find out that the Center administered 1116 criminal cases, of which 220 cases of corruption, in 2003. From the same source we also learned / we are citing from “MS”, because only the state press was invited to that press conference / that as a result of the actions undertaken by the Center, 69 million Lei were collected to the budget, of which 28 million Lei derived from sanctions and fines, which constitutes 114 % against the amount provided by the Budget Law/!/. This fact reveals the real mission of this institution – racketeering against economic agents and not only. Otherwise, how would we explain the fact that the task set for the Center at the end of 2002 was to collect a certain amount of money to the state budget only from fines applied to economic agents, which reminds us of the not so far away five-year plans. At this chapter, CCCEC not only honored its obligations, but also overfulfilled the plan by as high as 14 percent. And if economic agents do not violate the law this year, how will those from the Center fulfill the plan?
Employees’ salaries – a state secret
A picture for the public opinion is the size of the salaries of CCCEC officers. No matter how much we persevered, we did not manage to find much. „The size of the salaries of the Center’s employees is stipulated by governmental decree, which by decision of the executive body cannot be made public”, the CCCEC told us. So, it is a state secret. Do the “the chosen ones” really not know that the information subject to restrictions and qualified as information protected by the state is regulated by organic law and never by a governmental decree? In order to throw some light onto these confusions, we arranged a meeting with the Center representatives in the courtroom.
Ministry of Finance case
Yearly, as a result of the irresponsible actions of criminal investigation bodies and some officers’ lack of competence, the state must pay six-figure amounts for the fulfillment of writs of execution. This state of affairs made us initiate an investigation. For the beginning, we tried to find out the necessary information over the telephone. An officer of the Ministry of Finance was enchanted by the reporters’ being interested in such a painful problem for the state budget. At the beginning, the officer told us that he had to have his bosses’ approval. The Ministry of Finance administration, however, did all they could for us not to get to that information. We did not suspect that our request would put on fire those from the MF, and later, as we were about to find, the head of the government, too. According to the way in which they acted, we suspected, like the respective officer, that it was problem, but that the authorities were trying hard to keep it under seven locks.
After one month of waiting and telephone calls to the MF, we understood that the only solution to obtain the information was to go to court. On 17 December 2003 we filed a lawsuit against the MF, invoking restriction of access to information. Although we hoped for an equidistant and objective trial, the reality was different. The Court of Appeal judge, Gheorghe Zubati, who examined the request, turned out to be biased, as if he were the MF’s attorney. The MF representative did not show up at the first three court sessions. Although, according to the court practice, the judge, in such cases, usually makes a decision at the second session. We are sure that if API had not showed up for the trial, Zubati would have dismissed the case without hesitation. In this trial, however, the judge ignored the principle of celerity. Although the MF did not show up at several sessions in a row, the judge was looking for various ways to take the defendant’s part: he was ready either to call personally those from the MF to ask them to come to the court /!/, asserting openly in the session that it was in the MF’s interest to come to the trial, then he was saying that the MF does not have enough lawyers and „we must understand their situation”. The judge even got to the point of inquiring when MF had another trial at the Court of Appeal in order to arrange the trial with API for the same day. Meanwhile, while the judge was tergiversating the trial, we found out that the Prime Minister, Vasile Tarlev, himself, got involved in the MF’s support. On 20 January 2004, he signs an order to the Ministry of Justice, in which he orders the latter to interfere to help /!/ MF in the trial with API, attaching API’s approach to MF and our summons, without our approval thereof. On 26 January, the Prime Minister insists with another order to the MJ, ordering it to undertake urgent measures for the MF’s support in the respective process. The MJ officers were more reasonable and tried to explain to the Prime Minister that there was no way for the Ministry of Justice to get involved in the trial, because API’s request was grounded and MF was obliged by law to respond to the request for information. This case not only revealed the vicious practice of involvement of the executive power in the activity of the judiciary, but also the fact that they come in agreement with each other when they must hide the wrongdoings of some officers. We are surprised by the fact that the judge, instead of being indignant at the fact that the MF not only does not execute, but also keeps secret the data on the fulfillment of the writs of execution, he actually approves of such actions. What is then the purpose of the judge’s work, if court decisions are not executed?
Since the respective structures got stuck really bad, in such a simple case, and API’s request for information was being examined, without our approval, by the Prime Minister, we requested the State Chancery, under the Law on registers, to provide us information from the register about the orders 1514-13 and 1514-33, since API was the titular by law on the object of registration. What do you think Pantelei Tâltu answered us? Actually, it is the only answer offered to us so far by this officer to our multiple approaches by which we have been requesting increased public interest information. The Head of the Chancery invoked, along with other stupidities, that “the Government and State Chancery do not fulfill the function of registrar and do not keep registers, the institution of which is provided by law...”, and API’s request cannot be satisfied because, “the registration of correspondence and clerical works are not carried out in accordance with the Law on registers /to which we referred/, but in accordance with the Instructions on carrying out secretarial works in central public administration bodies, approved by Governmental Decree no.618 of 5 October 1993”. We ask ourselves, since when a governmental decree is superior to a law for the State Chancery?
Meanwhile, judge Zubati, probably convinced the MF people to give us an answer in order to be able to pronounce, on 17 March, a decision in the name of the law on this case by which to reject API’s request as being completely groundless /!/, invoking „the fact that the answer was submitted over the 30-day term and is justified by evidence and minister’s excuses”. Mr. Zubati, which is the evidence brought by MF, and then, according to the Law on access to information, MF had to respond in at least 15 days, where from did you take as many? And then, MF gave us an incomplete answer on 26 February, in more than four months from the date of request. Can a law violation be washed out only by the excuses of the Minister of Finance, as you justified in your decision?
The State Chancery Case
The way the governors proceeded to collecting money for the reconstruction of Capriana monastery as well as the suspicions arisen in connection with the marathons organized by them, and especially the contradictory amounts stated by various officials, made us initiate an investigation on this subject. All the contacted responsible parties refused to offer us the requested information, suggesting us that the only person that had the information is the head of the State Chancery Pantelei Tiltu. Even the abbot of the Capriana monastery told us that he could offer us the information only with Tiltu’s approval. On seeing that all roads were taking us to Tâltu, we decided to persevere. However, our pedantry came up against the obstinacy of the head of the Chancery of not answering to any of other calls or official requests, by which we requested information about the amounts of money and goods collected within the monastery reconstruction campaign, about the money already used, the bank with which the already collected money was deposited and whether the selection of the bank and of the companies conducting the reconstruction works had been done on a tender basis. At the same time, we requested copies of the decision of the committee for the organization of tenders for the selection of the bank and of construction companies and of some payment orders. Since in Tâltu’s case the bible example “knock, and it will be opened to you” did not have an effect, we tried knocking on the door of the one who patronizes the monastery’s reconstruction – President Voronin, at the same time informing him that the head of the Chancery refused to gave us an answer. But it turned out that we indulged in wishful thinking because we did not get an answer even from the person that, by the Constitution, is the guarantee of observance of the law in the country. Instead, immediately after our approaches, materials containing some information about the reconstruction works at Capriana began to filter in in the governmental press and on Moldova 1 TV station: they showed that everything was going on in the most Christian way. The bank where the money was being kept and its selection procedure continued to remain a mystery for those that maybe gave their last penny for the reconstruction of the holy place. An argument that could easily prove the truthfulness of the above said is the fact that on 29 April, the day after API initiated a lawsuit against the State Chancery, Pantelei Tiltu came out in the evening news on “Moldova 1” TV station, and on 30 April – in a story on the first page of the official ”Moldova Suverana”, in which he seemed to be answering to our approaches. He named for the first time the bank in which the collected money was being kept, but neither this time did he tell us everything. The bank selection procedure was kept silent. By accident or not, the head of the state paid, on 29 April, a visit to Capriana. Because suspicions keep goading us, we wonder whether the coming out of the governors right after we initiated the lawsuit was natural, or caused by the “independence” of those from the Court of Appeal.
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