Sunday, February 12, 2017

Kit Gillet - ‘We must fight on’ – Romania’s crusader against corruption will not back down

Among the thousands of placards on display over the last two weeks of mass anti-government protests in Romania – the largest the country has seen in a quarter of a century – are many that read “Hands off DNA”, a reference to Romania’s national anti-corruption directorate, or DNA for short.
The agency, which was founded in 2003, has been at the forefront of the country’s fight against official misconduct, and with the government’s recent moves to decriminalise certain types of low-level corruption, many on the streets have rallied to the agency’s defence.

Sitting in her Bucharest office just a mile from the main protest site, DNA’s chief prosecutor, Laura Codruţa Kovesi, who has increasingly become the face of Romania’s anti-corruption efforts, explains the issues at stake. “Since Emergency Ordinance 13 was adopted, every day is a risk for the justice system,” Kovesi said. The ordinance, which was passed in a late-night session by Sorin Grindeanu’s new government on 31 January, effectively decriminalised official misconduct in which the financial damage was less than 200,000 lei (£38,000). It was then repealed, but only after hundreds of thousands took to the streets in opposition. Few believe the government has permanently backed down, and protests have continued.

Kovesi, whose quiet demeanour belies the storm she regularly whips up among the rich and powerful, says the dangers for anti-corruption efforts haven’t diminished. “From my point of view the risk hasn’t been changed,” she said. “People who have the jurisdiction, who have the ability to amend the legislation, are saying now that there will be several additional amendments. I don’t think we can be at peace.”

Romania has long been plagued by corruption, but since joining the EU the country has made significant strides in dealing with the issue. Despite these efforts, it remains a major concern.
Part of the anger felt by those who have taken to the streets in recent weeks comes from the fact that many Romanian politicians in office are currently facing corruption investigations, or have already been indicted or convicted of crimes. There are worries that these latest moves by the government are simply attempts to protect the political class at the expense of the common people. “The most important thing is that Romanians feel that nobody is above the law, and we need to maintain this,” said Kovesi, her office walls adorned with religious imagery as well as colourful paintings by a niece. “We must not pass laws that favour those who commit serious crimes.”.. read more: