Romanians say no to corruption
This editorial appeared in Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
In a development reminiscent of the United States House of Representatives’ effort in January to gut the Office of Congressional Ethics, the Romanian parliament passed a bill in effect decriminalizing its members’ corrupt practices.
Specifically, it stated that only theft or bribery amounting to a sum more than $48,500 would be prosecuted. Smaller pieces of larceny would, in effect, go unpunished. Romania, population 22 million, is considered to be a Balkan crossroads of corruption. Its parliament’s members were no doubt counting on the country’s general tolerance of the practice to allow the measure to slip through without public reaction.
That turned out to be wrong. Romanians turned out in the streets of Bucharest in the hundreds of thousands for six nights straight to demand that the decriminalizing statute be scrapped. Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu made such a pledge, but that did not dispel the demonstrators who continued to demand urgent action to change the law. When that did not occur immediately, they demanded the resignation of the government, only elected in December.
It may be that public intolerance of government corruption is spreading across Europe, as well as possibly America. The French public has responded to news reports that Republican Party presidential candidate Francois Fillon, previously deemed the favourite to win the elections later in the spring, had put his wife on the parliamentary payroll for years, without her doing any work. At the moment, French polls show far-right candidate Marine Le Pen in first place, ahead of Fillon, among the candidates for the presidency.
Americans too, in spite of the consistently stagnant wages that have characterized the U.S. economy for decades, have, in general, shown a high tolerance for lawmakers’ own augmenting of their fortunes while in office. At least half of the members of Congress are millionaires, and the Cabinet nominated by new U.S. President Donald Trump is chock-full of very rich people. It is arguable that they will be more honest in office because they are already rich, but that may be hard for Trump’s “forgotten people,” working two or three jobs just to get by, to believe.