Opinion

The Fight Against Corruption In Eastern Europe

Last January, tens of thousands of protestors rallied in front of the Parliament building in Moldova’s capital city of Chisinau. The demonstrators were infuriated by the embezzlement of $1 billion – almost one-eighth of our entire Gross Domestic Product – from three of our major banks, as well as pervasive corruption in the political system.

Inside the Parliament building, the reformist majority of legislators understood that Moldova – a former Soviet Republic under pressure from Russia to give up our dream of joining the European Union (EU) – faced an historic turning point: We could clean up our government and restore the confidence of our own citizens. Or we could continue to slide into chaos that would serve those trying to push our country back to Russia’s sphere of influence.

We got the message from the masses of Moldovans and selected a respected technocrat, Pavel Filip, to head a new government – the sixth in 11 months. Together with Filip and his cabinet, we got to work making the changes the people have demanded. Our top priority: an all-out attack on the corruption that underlies the widespread discontent and undermines our efforts to address economic and social problems.

As Moldova approaches a presidential election on October 30 pitting pro-EU and pro-Russian forces, we’re ready for the Western recognition we deserve for implementing far- reaching economic and anti-corruption reforms and for our efforts to keep Russia from interfering with our domestic politics. We’ve been watching how Russia reportedly tried to intervene in the US elections, and it’s a feeling all-too-familiar to us.

Having served in Parliament as Speaker, Deputy Speaker and a member of the committee on legal issues, I have seen eight governments take office since 2013. But never before have I seen a government so dedicated to getting results.

Determinedly pursuing the reforms required in our recently ratified Association Agreement with the EU, the new government and the pro-reform coalition in Parliament, led by the Democratic Party of Moldova, have enacted an aggressive anti-corruption agenda. We are requiring public officials to disclose their sources of wealth and income. We have heavily increased the penalties for corruption. We have criminalized the misuse of funds from the EU and other international sources. And we have toughened the criminal code, created a new anti-corruption prosecutor and strengthened independence of the front-line fighters against graft – the judiciary and Moldova’s law enforcement agencies.

This isn’t the first time that governments have called for combating corruption. But this time we’re backing up tough talk with real action. If you’re a public official with lavish tastes and bank accounts beyond what your salary could provide, law enforcement agencies are going to ask you some probing questions. If we catch you taking a bribe, then your penalties will include a fine significantly higher than your ill-gotten gains.

We are also implementing new tough, transparent and publicly monitored mechanisms for financing political parties and election campaigns, in keeping with international standards. The clear message to aspiring political leaders and an understandably distrustful citizenry: no more trading power for money or influence for favors.

Like most other countries making the transition from communism to capitalism, there have been too many false starts in the past where politicians paid lip service to the cause of change, and reforms were announced but soon abandoned. This time, we understand that our national independence and European future are at stake. And we dare not fail.

In my own way, I have strived to communicate the seriousness of our situation. Early in 2015, the National Bank of Moldova hired the American financial security consultants, Kroll, Inc., to conduct an investigation of the larcenous looting of three major banks. The report’s findings are informing our government’s efforts to recover the funds and prosecute those who stole them.

As a former specialist in corporate audits and Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Economy, I have studied the Kroll Report carefully. And I believe my fellow citizens should have the same opportunity to better understand how corruption can wreck our economy and why it must be rooted out. That is why I, as Speaker of Parliament, broke with tradition, published the report and assumed personal responsibility for releasing it, rather than hide behind “anonymous sources.”

Now is the time for Moldovans to take a stand for our future in the community of free-market democracies. Our friends in the United States and Western Europe should support our struggles, understanding that our success will be a victory for the values that we share.

Andrian Candu is the Speaker of the Parliament of Moldova and the former head of the Moldovan office of Pricewatershouse Coopers, one of the world’s four major auditing firms.