09 July 2014

Tipping Point? (EN, skeptical)

A hotel room in Bacău, the city where I saw communism collapse...  That happened almost 25 years ago, and I was a soldier at the time, fulfilling my compulsory (and abusive) military stage.  Now, I'm attending a conference in Washington, DC via BlueJeans:  CEPA releases a report looking at Romania's 25-year experience with transition, rule of law, governance and leadership in the public sector...  A tipping point?!?  In so many ways, yes!;  in so many other ways, not yet :-(

source:  cover of the CEPA report, launched 9 July 2014
Romania is a hollow state, utterly incapable of projecting its own future, yet held together by external forces that cannot afford one more crisis to the East.  Under these circumstances, consolidation of existing achievements is the top priority;  perception of a tipping point is anywhere between necessary and wishful thinking;  leadership is almost nowhere to be found...  Yet, Romania did travel a long way from oppression to pressure points, so let's take a fresh look at things not yet apparent to the authors of CEPA's report (myself includedthese thoughts are the rough observations I made during the past 5 weeks, while traveling across the country with a caravan of information workshops that cater the National Anti-Corruption Strategy to local governments):

  1. Public institutions in this country lack the administrative capacity of simply running their day-to-day business.  This particular incapacity includes the inability of collecting any relevant data, lest of interpreting/processing such data for policy-making.  Unless we consolidate implementation of the transparency laws, from local government to presidential decisions, we'll fall back on oppression, as the most close-at-hand counter-measure to chaos. 
  2. Without capacity for data collection and interpretation, local governments embrace the groupthink path of least resistance, namely learned helplessness:  it's always someone/something else that's guilty/responsible for the lack of resources:  the central government, the political opposition, the anti-corruption agencies, the foreign-sponsored NGOs, the pickyourownconspiracy...  Good practice models?!?  The general attitude is can't hear you, don't wanna read about those models, they definitely got some help from somewhere else, so they can't be replicated...  But at least one mayor I met with the caravan thinks that his city-hall was reduced to a law implementation entity, in spite of the local autonomy proclaimed in the Constitution, so he can't allocate more than one hour a week to actually managing his community!  Maybe this is the tipping point:  finally acknowledging that we have (stupid?) laws that require public institutions to look like 10-ton trucks driving at 50 mph, while what we actually have on the ground are one-horse carriages :-( 
  3. Leadership doesn't breed without competition!  When the average municipality has about 6,000 people (and the median is probably 2,000 less), one cannot ensure true competition for jobs in the public sector, in the local government, and therefore no one can guarantee development.  The number of municipalities in Romania must be reduced from the current 3,200+ to way less than 2,000, and such a move must be accompanied by a reduction in parliamentary seats, from 580+ to less than 280 (cubic root of 20 million).  Couple that with a relaxation of the threshold for political party formation, and you'll have competition!  Enough to turn political participation around, given that now we have about 75% of the people not represented at all, while about 60% of the people almost disenfranchised (not participating in elections). 
Granted, there's some pressure at #3, on all 3 fronts, from party formation to parliamentary seats reduction, to merging local governments and even to rearranging counties into regions.  Will this be coupled with enough pressure for administrative reforms that respond to #2 and change the attitude towards accountability in the public sector, as suggested at #1?  I seriously doubt that :-(  In December, 25 years later, we'll have a new President of this hollow republic, and by the looks of the current electoral campaign, we won't have a vision for the future...  So, maybe it's time for civil society to articulate one, if NGO leaders do exist, if NGO managers can summon resources...  And these are the real issueswhen (re)solved, we'll know about the tipping point, whether we would've bravely made the leap or absent-mindedly passed the opportunity!
Update:  Corina Rebegea, editor/coordinator of "The Tipping Point," presents the report to the Romanian public, on Contributors.  Enjoy! :-)

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