Romanian Government Backtracks on Corruption Decree
Thousands of Romanians in Bucharest continue to protest an emergency government ordinance, passed January 31, that would have ended or reduced the sentences of prisoners charged with corruption. The ordinance, in addition to freeing up to 3,700 prisoners, would have eliminated jail time for corruption charges worth under $44,000 (approximately US $47,00), and also ceased ongoing investigations into potential offences. The opposition accused the government of attempting to decriminalize corruption.
Since mid-January, the number of demonstrators has grown to the largest level since the fall of communism in Romania in 1989. Estimates put the size of the crowd as more than 300,000 people. In response, Prime Minister Sorin Grideanu promised to withdraw the law late Saturday night, however, discontented crowds gathered on Sunday regardless.
Romania has expanded its anti-corruption program significantly since the early 2000’s, in an attempt to increase transparency to gain admittance to the European Union. The country created a specific entity to handle corruption cases called the National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA). Romanian trust in the DNA (60 percent) is higher than trust in the Romanian parliament (11 percent). However, some Romanian politicians believed the body to have gone too far after it began an investigation into the country's prime minister in 2015.
Many protesters see the government ordinance as a method of undoing the DNA’s anti-corruption work. The law was first proposed by the former Prime Minister’s own PSD party. According to Bloomberg, the party leaders argued that the ordinance was intended to reduce prison overcrowding.
However, it appears the government hasn’t fully learnt its lesson. As The Guardian reports, “A separate bill [is] to go before parliament [that] would free about 2,500 prisoners on short sentences.”