INTERVIEW // Vlad Plahotniuc: I started to feel that things can move in the right direction, but the process is just at its beginning. IPN interview
23 August 2018
Mr. Plahotniuc, the IPN Agency is currently conducting several interviews with personalities having decision-making rights and personalities who have the right to criticize those decisions. We do so in the context of the upcoming Independence Day. More precisely, four leaders representing the governance and the same number representing the political opposition. With most of them, we have already published or requested short interviews, based on the "mirror" principle - similar questions, to ensure a fair and equidistant approach to everyone. But also because with all the other interviewees we have done so far quite a number of interviews on quite a number of occasions. It seems that only one of the eight personalities has avoided this time answering IPN questions. This is the first interview with you made by the IPN Press Agency over the entire 13-year period of its existence, which is said that you are the one who generate almost all the decisions in our country and that is why we want to use this occasion to ask you some questions, of course, about Independence, but not only. Thus, within a few days, 27 years shall elapse since the Republic of Moldova is an independent country. Where do you think did we get within these years?
Regarding the historical moment of 27 years ago we all have clarity - the Republic of Moldova has gained the much desired independence and we have been given the opportunity to build this state, to increase its potential. However, the subsequent course has been fragmented by happier or less happier events, and if we analyze well, we realize that many of them were somehow natural for a state under construction, a young state.
I have lived most of those years as a simple citizen, not as a politician, and I can tell you that I have always tried to avoid having unrealistic expectations. It was not then fashionable to expect assistance from Europeans, Americans, Romanians, Russians and others, one had to manage by oneself, relying on his own capabilities. I have built businesses from scratch, I went through various difficulties, I had disappointments and, as a simple citizen, but also as a businessman, I have felt very directly this transition period that our country was crossing. And also from this perspective, to answer your question, I can tell you that today it is much easier to start a business and develop it in the Republic of Moldova than it was 10 or 20 years ago.
The Republic of Moldova has reached the point where it is in a process of modernization, even if things do not change as fast as we all want, but what matters is the correct direction and our determination. As far as the development of a country is concerned, there are always different opinions, but what we can tell with certainty is that we have a stable, truly independent state, a respected one and supported by international community.
But at the same time, we have a state from which young people are leaving, a depopulated state. Is not this the sign of a failure?
People have been leaving Moldova since declaration of its independence, it is not a phenomenon that started now. There have been times when this migration has been greater. If you take official statistics, you will find that the largest flow of departure was until 2015. Since 2016, when the Democratic Party assumed the governance, this flow has been reduced.
By the way, it was a time when I also left the country as a student, I went to earn some money to continue my studies, to support my family, as it was possible at that time, I worked informally, like many others, I fully experienced the life of an emigrant.
I then returned to Moldova for studies and, along with my education, I also began to get involved in business.
Later I established a partnership with a foreign company, from Romania, after which, with the money I earned, I started investing in the country. So, I know very well the experience of an emigrant, but I want to tell you that I did not leave the Republic of Moldova because of a ruling party, I was well aware that a developing country must undergo a long period before the situation improves and I could do something here.
Of course, it is easy to say that you are leaving the country because of some governing party, but if tomorrow another party would come, then you would leave anyway, if that's what you want to do in the end. Besides, the Republic of Moldova is not the only state in the region where such phenomena have occurred, just analyze what happened to Romania in this respect during the period 1990-2010, for example, what happened to Bulgaria, Ukraine, you will see that they had huge flows of departures. Romania is a member state of the European Union and still has a lot of departed people, even if the situation has improved substantially.
Regrettably, this migration is also a natural thing, as it happened in most post-Soviet states, it is normal for young people to wish to live in a country that offers them an immediate perspective for better living conditions, better roads, medicine, education, etc., especially that the events during these 27 years of independence did not provide them with any sense of safety for tomorrow.
What is important, however, is, in the end, to make the Republic of Moldova evolve so that Moldovans who have left can come back home and find here better and stable jobs, better living conditions. We understand that after years of political crisis, the speed of making changes is of course affected by the damage caused by these crises, and yet, during this year, the first concrete signs emerged that from the economic point of view Moldova is on the right track. We have passed the turning point in the economic balance of the state, and now, after years of loss or stagnation, we made a definite progress, also noted by our foreign partners. This brings hope and encourages us to work even harder.
At 27 years of independence, is the Republic of Moldova a captive state?
How do you feel? Do you feel in captivity in Moldova, do you have impediments to do your job, to move freely, to express yourself freely? Is the opposition in this country somehow absent or maybe protests and criticism of the government are forbidden? This expression - captive state - is just another slogan of the political opponents.
Since you asked me: I personally do not have yet a very clear answer to the captivity of the state, but I have been living in the last two years with the feeling of some mega-scenarios, generated, I believe, by the governance, involving many state structures, and as the most relevant example, I would refer to invalidation of Chisinau mayor elections. But in general, I refer to a broadly perceived perception which is sounded mainly by the political opposition and some of the active NGOs.
About the invalidation of elections, I can repeat what I said at that time, though I think my opinion was very clear then. Now I wish to supplement the answer. Everything is known by comparison, and talking about state institutions, I think they have the most independent period within these 27 years and the most functional public services. Try to recollect the difficult situations Moldova has experienced in different years, how the institutions acted in difficult times, how efficient or inefficient they were, and you will see that we now have institutions that have evolved, they are citizen-oriented, they react more professionally and promptly to people's requests. However we are not yet at the average European level, but we are growing, we are aiming at this.
The problem is, I admit, in the speed - how quick is the process of institutions' modernization. And here too the opposition would have a useful word to say, if they knew how to formulate their political messages in a competent way.
I agree that the pace of reforms could be much more accelerated and today the institutions of the Republic of Moldova would have to look much better, more modern and be more efficient. But how can this happen after so many years of political instability? It is a miracle that the economic system has not completely collapsed and we have not come to a catastrophic situation. Some of those in the opposition have governed the country directly or indirectly in these years. Can you tell me what did they do for the country, for public servants to make sure they stay and work for the state? I tell you, they did one thing, they hired their party colleagues in the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Ministry of Education and elsewhere, and so they "modernized" the institutions.
But the Democratic government has approached things in a different way, based on other principles. For the first time we started to come up with programs dedicated to public servants, we give them the opportunity to buy houses with half of the price paid by the state, for those working in law enforcement institutions we have begun to provide access to social housing, we reduced wage taxes, we have increased the wage to the extent permitted by the economic growth after a long period of crisis, including after negotiations in this regard with external donors, to convince them of the need for these wage increases and tax cuts.
For the first time, a government does something concrete for civil servants, offering them a reason to remain in the public sector, to attract young people in this field. We are captivated by our mission, we are absorbed by the sincere desire to develop the Republic of Moldova economically and socially - this is the only way in which the word "captivated" is meaningful in regard to the current government.
Regarding the representatives of other parties, basically PDM’s political opponents, you provided the answer. However, the same statements about the political subordination of state institutions are coming from a number of civil society representatives, and in some of them I have enough confidence in their expertise. Do the institutions act under political command?
Like any free person, in a free country, you have the right to sympathies and antipathies. However, for example, I have seen two very curious approaches on this issue, widely referred to by the press, some analyzes made by two people who have been in the government for years, both of whom have been in high state positions after 2009, precisely in the economic field. After contributing to the country's disaster, they withdrew into NGOs and started acting as independent analysts forgetting that they were unable to do anything good in their respective positions – moreover worsening the situation.
So when you talk about civil society, I recommend you to follow the truly independent analyzes of NGOs that do not include people who have failed in politics and are now using civil society to make up for their failures and to retaliate with political parties.
There are NGOs that really do remarkable work. Unfortunately, they are less known because this area, I repeat, is monopolized by a few former politicians, who continue their political wars, delivering lessons left and right about independence and efficiency, although they are some of those who are directly responsible for the failure of the Republic of Moldova to evolve faster and better in these years.
It would be good for the NGOs to be as independent and apolitical, as they expect the state institutions to be. As for the state institutions, I assure you that they are in the process of modernization; this also implies reinforcing the independence of these institutions following the reforms made. A priority for us since taking over the government in 2016 was the reform of banking system and I do not think anybody has any doubt that this reform was a success, after the important foreign investments in this sector and the positive statements of Western experts.
But justice and the fight against corruption was not a priority?
On the contrary, and the proof is also the huge number of laws voted over the last two years to reform this field. For the first time we have clarity regarding the declaration of officials' assets, we have clarity regarding the liability of judges, elimination of abuses in pre-trial arrest and many other laws that could have been very well voted also back then when Maia Sandu with LDPM held the Justice portfolio and we would be much more advanced today. But they are moving just around the theory, and others shall tackle the practical issues. And PDM came along with PPEM and we voted all the laws agreed with the foreign partners in the justice reform process and we have them today either implemented or in the process of being implemented. The effects, however, of course cannot be seen immediately in each case, the implementation process also has different stages and deadlines for implementation. But I want to assure you that results will not be delayed.
And why than do we still have so many drawbacks in justice?
It's because it is the most complicated domain to be reformed and it takes time. Why for 6-7 years you did not ask those from LDPM what did they do with the Ministry of Justice and with the justice system in general? They had to leave the government to make possible the vote for the reform of the prosecutor's office and many important laws in the field of justice. It is really interesting that they were voted by PDM itself, which is being accused of not making enough judicial reforms. In fact, as you know, EU did stop the financing of the judicial reforms because LDPM did not do its job when managing this area. Moldova still suffers consequences of some failed governments from the past and, regretfully, not only in these two areas.
It is an issue of perception - that with reformed justice, people have the impression that justice is not reformed...
I agree with them, justice is not yet fully reformed, it is in the process of being reformed. But this process was at least started by us, after years of being rather mimicked precisely by those from the current opposition, who are playing today the Snow White on streets and are chanting that they want reforms, after years and years of burning state money and money from the development partners for mimicked reforms.
Do you refer to Maia Sandu? There is a perception that she has made good reforms at the Ministry of Education.
You said very well, there is a perception. But the difference between reality and perception is sometimes very big. What reforms did she make? Did the shut down schools here and there and put the village children in trouble? She bragged that she had installed some cameras for the graduation exams in high schools, an initiative which, as far as I know, was not even hers, but of the NAC.
Do you like the education reformed by her? Ask the teachers, they will tell you. Ask pupils how they carry pounds of books on their backs at an early age, because she was unable to optimize the school curriculum. These are things, however, that we started to address: we stopped closing schools, we work on a new curriculum that, I hope, will considerably reduce the volume of homework for children. We are discussing almost at every weekly party meeting the education related topics, because it is one of the sectors which in the past few years had the weakest developments. Education and Justice, both are areas that have been managed by the current opposition in the recent years, by politicians now hiding in PAS or PPDA and other parties.
Do you remember the huge disappointment that LDPM has produced among the population? From PAS and PPDA you can soon expect a disappointment at least as big, there are already clearer indications and evidences of the linkage between these parties with oligarchic groups and Russian special services. Right during these days their names appear in an international scandal regarding the expulsion from EU of Lyudmila Kozlovska, suspected of actions against some European countries and links with Russian intelligence services. This person has done serious work denigrating the Republic of Moldova in Europe, especially in Brussels, she constantly was taking steps against our country together with Maia Sandu and Andrei Nastase. Media writes that she illegally financed the activities of Moldovan parties through an NGO. After her expulsion from the EU, it becomes clear what and who was behind her and what was the reason for denigrating our country and enrolling politicians whom she used in her actions. PDM has urged state institutions to investigate how this international scandal had implications on the Republic of Moldova, and in parallel, we will also provide the public with the information we have available, so that people know the reality and not be again disappointed.
However, the critical approach of the opposition is also supported by population. The governance faces protests in this respect. How much do you listen to people's voices from these protests?
Let's first make a clarification about what is a real protest of the people and what is a protest of some parties. Look, tomorrow PDM gathers a hundred thousand people and goes to PAS and PPDA office, expressing dissatisfaction with an action of these parties. What is it, a protest launched by citizens or by a political party? Of course it is an action of a political party, otherwise absolutely okay, the parties have the right to do such actions. When we talk about the protests organized by PPDA and PAS, it would be right not to lie the population and say that these are protests initiated by simple citizens. People watch TV and see well that those who talk there are just a few political leaders and several so-called representatives of civil society, who are also former politicians. So what kind of citizens' protest is it? Whom do they represent? They represent themselves as parties and they do a political action. And, I repeat, this is absolutely okay to assemble the party's active core and to manifest, it is just as okay if citizens without political visions join them.
On the other hand, we pay attention to the messages, because some of the messages conveyed by the opposition are taken from opinion polls, they resort to this trick to make their political actions more credible. Here, however, comes the part that we are interested in and concerned about, that which regards the real dissatisfaction of the citizens, whether they are PDM supporters or share other political views.
And here I will give you an example to understand how we act.
At the beginning of our governance in 2016 we had a meeting with businessmen where they reported cases of abuses by some institutions. Those were very tough messages, and we decided to act immediately to stop these abuses. We held serious discussions with officials in the institutions, and those cases were settled, but soon other abuses occurred. Then we understood that it was not enough to listen the message from society and solve specific cases, but a systemic approach is needed. And that is how were generated some of the provisions of the recently adopted economic package, which includes many measures that prevent the institutions from abusing companies, control institutions have been abolished, clear rules and procedures have been established.
This is how we think we have to solve things, not through false protests or political shows. We acted alike with the "First Home" program. For years, the LDPM-led government has struggled to launch the program and failed, but in a few months we have already launched three phases of the program, we have provided such facilities to the citizens that could not even be imagined in the past.
However, this package also contains many problems, and one is related to the voluntary declaration. Opposition says that this law could be used for money laundry from the bank fraud.
Have you read the voted provisions concerning the voluntary declaration?
I confess I did not, but I read the analyzes of some experts more familiar with legal or economic terminology.
I assure you that even those experts did not fully read the provisions at the stage they expressed their views, as did not others who have expressed themselves publicly. And that's sad, we come up with analyzes, without even reading what we analyze. If they read the document, they would find a clearly described mechanism by which the politicians who were in power during bank fraud were not entitled to this voluntary declaration, they would see how many categories do not have this right, precisely to prevent that risk. Voluntary declaration is a successful practice in many countries with advanced democracies, including in major European countries. Yes, it is true that we had the bank fraud and we had to dedicate a separate chapter to risk-mitigation measures, so that those who have benefited in any way from bank fraud cannot make the voluntary declaration.
I want to mention an important aspect of this reform. The procedure refers to money generally obtained from non-payment of taxes (for example, selling goods without declaring the income), but not to money of criminal origin, including from corruption, trafficking, etc. And the revenue source will be reported to the Tax Service.
In short, no suspicious money is covered by the voluntary declaration.
At the same time, I remind you here that the Prosecutor's Office announced a few months ago that it has identified the tracks of money embezzled from banking system, the beneficiaries of the offense and the money transfer scheme are known, and now the Prosecution Service deals with the full recovery of money, including from abroad. As a result, money from bank fraud cannot be declared under this reform, they cannot be subjected to legalization procedures, because this case is part of a complex criminal case file, and the persons involved in theft, including their transfers, are under monitoring. And if anyone will try to legalize stolen money, he will be identified.
On the other hand, the voluntary declaration will ensure a process of cleaning up the economy, bringing up to the surface the money from underground economy, which is not at all few, a process of real and correct declaration of the real estate, to end finally with this practice of declaring houses on third parties. You cannot start a real economic reform without first cleaning the underground economy, unravelling what's there and reducing its share, which is huge now.
And by the way, voluntary declaration enables even the opposition leaders to enter into legality. Some of them have houses registered on parents or relatives, they hide themselves behind different names and now have the opportunity to enter into legality.
What is important, however, is how the voluntary declaration will be implemented, and here the Government will monitor the process very carefully so that it is carried out correctly and in compliance with our international partnerships. If necessary, we will intervene with changes or additions, so that the effects are maximally positive.
Is the PDM still a real pro European party after relations with European partners have been somewhat damaged lately?
First of all, it is important to note that the relations of PDM with European partners have not deteriorated, our closer relations have always been in the area of our political family - European Social Democrats, with whom we still have a good partnership. With the EPP, the political family that PPDA and PAS have recently joined, along with PLDM, we never had a very good relationship, but it is natural, there is a political competition and it generates differences in approaches and visions.
But most importantly is what kind of relationship the Government has with European partners, not parties. Our Government has fulfilled all the commitments agreed with the European partners for the first instalment of the macro-financial assistance, and commitments for the second and third instalments are being fulfilled. It is less important when the money are granted, more importantly is to make the reforms agreed with our partners. Without these money we can handle , but without reforms we cannot handle and Moldova will not evolve as fast as it should. That is why we are focusing on reforms, not money, and we stand by our commitments and agreements.
So the PDM remains a pro-European party in its vision, and above all, the PDM will be to an even higher extent a pro Moldova party, and in the fall you will see interesting actions on this line, with new approaches for the politics in our country, that will be liked by the citizens because they have been waiting for them for a long time.
As far as the Government is concerned, it will still be based on actions focused on the national strategy for European integration. There are many parties that have taken advantage of the words "pro-European" and have used it strictly for electoral purposes. It is time for these words to be no longer used as an electoral slogan, to stop being politicized, but to be part of the country's strategic approach, of the directions of evolution that the government supports.
What does pro Moldova mean? What changes can we expect in the autumn?
For 27 years, all Moldovan parties have positioned themselves as being pro something external. Some were pro-European, others pro-unification (with Romania), others pro-Russian and so on. No party was really pro Moldova and for Moldovans, they all did cling primordially to an external landmark and they played this card of solving the problems of Moldovans through magical external solutions. We believe it is an outdated approach and the time has come for the PDM to define its position more clearly and to bring about a working model based on results and efficiency, starting strictly from the real citizens' agenda rather than from geopolitical, sentimental and other type of issues.
For the last 27 years, Moldovans have been for too long fed with illusions and geopolitics, it is time to put aside this approach and get back home, to clean first our household and to fix it, and then to go out into the world clean and ready for new developments. For years, our politicians went to Brussels or Moscow and from there they used to say to Moldovans "here's so good, we'll bring this to you too". But our Moldovans had problems at home, they were not keen to make experiments, they waited for politicians to come and work at home, not to convey greetings from offices in Brussels or Kremlin.
Our parties have always waited for Europeans, Americans, Romanians or Russians to solve their problems in the country and they would only collect votes during elections. This made some people from abroad take advantage of the situation and sometimes get inappropriately involved in Moldova's internal politics, seeing how naive and disoriented are some Moldovan politicians. However, if we really want to evolve, we do not have to wait for others to clean our yard, to clean our place so that we will feel strangers in our yards and become unwilling to stay in them any longer.
We have already begun to change the paradigm in external relations. On a different note, the Republic of Moldova, for the first time in its recent history, from being a country vulnerable to external influences, has begun to assert itself, even if still modestly, it has begun to have clear positions and to firmly support them both in regional geopolitical relations, and in international ones.
Let me conclude that you have not told us what we shall expect in the autumn, and I have to understand that the time has not yet come for the details.
The details shall follow, but especially our actions. We have to concern ourselves with the interests of Moldova, not be dependent on projects oriented strictly outward, to ensure ourselves the necessary order, to start changing our mentality. That is why PDM will change its approach on the way, it will focus, first of all, on solving specifically the citizens' problems with the internal resources we have and that we shall improve.
At the same time, Moldova's external partnerships must bring a surplus of resources for development, not for the survival of the country, as it happened for years. I will not tell you now all the news, we will communicate them at the right time, but what I now want to highlight is that we listen to the voice of people, of citizens, and they say in unison that they want to live better here, at home in Moldova. They are all, in fact, pro Moldova.
Why was the election date set on February 24? Is that a tactical delay?
This would be a delay if a date would be set, and then changed later. But the situation was different. This date was set from the very beginning, according to the legal framework. More views were raised regarding the date of elections, some wanted the first Sunday in December, others the last Sunday in February. In the end, the current version was selected, also following the recommendation of those dealing with elections’ organization, as well as of some voices from the civil society, because it is necessary to have enough time for organizing, especially because they are going to follow a new model.
Do you have a special message for the country's citizens at the 27th anniversary of the Republic of Moldova's independence?
First of all, I would like to tell them how well I understand that the Republic of Moldova, after 27 years, is not yet at the level at which they would like to see their country. When I was not a politician, I was also expecting for my country to evolve faster, to be able to do business safely, in a healthier and more competitive environment. I got involved in politics precisely to try to speed up this evolution and I confess that during the first years I did not really succeed much because the whole political class was rather involved in political battles.
It's only in the last two years that I started to feel that things can move in the right direction, but the process is just at its beginning. I would like to inspire much hope and optimism for Moldovans. I think that wherever our Moldovans are, they have reasons to celebrate on August 27 an extremely important thing - the Republic of Moldova is a truly independent country, and what happened 27 years ago could not be brought down by anyone, although attempts in this direction were not few. The country, like the mother, we love it not because it is beautiful, but because it is, ours, it has given us life and the possibility to develop. Our duty is to be grateful and to wish it well, and to work for that. Congratulations to all citizens, to all Moldovans. Congratulations, Moldova!
Original article you can find here