26 July 2008

Public Interest or Interesting for the Public? (EN)

Would you be interested to learn something very personal about me, for a change? Would it be appropriate for me to post a personal note on this blog, as it is dedicated to the fight against corruption? What if that note were at the same time very personal, very much related to the fight against corruption, and still of public interest? Let me explain: On July 7/9, the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung published a report on the state of judiciary and anti-corruption reforms in Romania. I don't read German, but my coworkers and friends do, so I learned about the rough contents of the KAS report just about the next day, on July 10. To my shock and amazement, a brief note regarding the evolution of the National Integrity Council (on page 9) also reflects a suspicion that I might be incompatible in my position at the Council, because of my day-to-day job at the Parliament...

In a meeting with the author of that report, on July 14, I learned how this suspicion came about--some civil society activists may have expressed such worries at various meetings where the fate and evolution 
of the National Integrity Agency had been discussed. In very concrete terms, nobody ever formulated any accusations--on the contrary, it seems that all civil society activists (regardless whether competitors or friends) appreciate my activity and involvement with the Council, and would regret if I had to leave the job. Looking strictly at the law, once again, neither one of them seems to be able and point to any breach or irregularity. Still, discomfort lurked in, and many a voice were heard (or read) to the effect that my simply wearing two hats was a problem. What I regret the most--very personally--is that people who have expressed such worries had never contacted/confronted me directly (with only one exception, that I mistakenly thought was cleared out), but resorted to the old and foolish gossip around or about foreign officials/representatives :(

Once I learned about the problem, I made an announcement that I was going to make a decision by July 23, to the effect of solving the matter. You may imagine the tossing and turning... Quite irritating to my mind, I was unable to understand the practical perspective over this alleged "incompatibility," since a) the situation had already been disclosed in my public-record declarations, b) the situation had already been 10 months old, c) I had already analyzed the situation, very critically, before I took up the post, and d) I was actually serving civil society from both positions... Sorry, you don't know what I was doing at the Parliament, do you? Given my background as a Government Scholarship recipient, I am supposed to work for 3 years in the public sector, and make good use of my master's in European Public Affairs to the benefit of modernizing Romanian administration. My project related to organizing a consultation procedure at the Parliament, for the European issues on the agenda of the standing committee on European Affairs. Aside from (hopefully) increasing the role of the Romanian Parliament in the
EU decision-making process, such a procedure would have helped to strengthen the links between domestic civil society and legislators, as well as legislative scrutiny over the executive branch of government.

Be that as it may... An allegation was on the floor, and I was in the spotlight, though I could sense all eyes were turning away, somewhat embarrased--not sure whether with me or with themselves? I could simply dismiss the accusations, and behave just like the politicians we criticize day in, day out, walking my own way... But I don't think so! The lesson learned is that civil society expects a representative such as myself to stand beyond any doubt, to provide a role model, especially when it comes to the Integrity Council. Hence, I recognize the need for a higher standard, for some kind of meta-morality, and from that perspective I chose to resign my job at the Parliament on July 23, as this was the source of discontent, discomfort, dissonance. What next?!? What about the people who had expressed their worries and concerns behind my back? How will I be able to represent them further? In order to regain my credibility (as if that were necessary), on the same date I decided to ask the integrity inspectors to verify my situation, and make the results of their investigation public. They are the law in this respect, and I will follow their ruling to the letter. In the meanwhile, if they so desire, I could even suspend myself from the position at the Council, such that no interference should bother their activity.

So, it's summer--time to take a little vacation, and plan for the future: I believe I've learned a valuable lesson from this situation, and I'll be even more careful next time around. I'll prepare a new project for the public sector, and I'll see to what extent I can do it while still representing civil society on the Integrity Council. Since I have a contract for another 26 months of service, this is, indeed, a very personal matter of high public interest--but I think I can afford a few months' break, sow some new seeds in civil society projects during this fall (not directly related to anti-corruption, but rather to good governance within the framework of the European Union), and start looking for a public sector job only at the end of this electoral year. Of course, if I do resign from my position at the Council (where my term should last until July 2010), I'll let you know, along with the reasons leading to that decision :) Cheers!


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