Mistresses of the State: 13 absentees, 5 fictitious addresses on a visit to 15 tax-funded parliamentary offices in Bucharest
For Romania’s senators and deputies, Friday is the established day for activities in their electoral districts. Politicians are allocated a cap equal to one and a half times their gross monthly salary for this specific purpose.
The gross salary of a parliament member is 7,000 Ron, so the cap amount for the electoral district office is approximately 10,000 Ron each month. As a rule, the members of the Parliament divide the 10,000 Ron in equal shares: 5,000 Ron for payment of the personnel and 5,000 Ron for the maintenance of the local office. For the local office they do not need to provide receipts, only an affidavit.
We wanted to check the justification for this money. For two consecutive Fridays we went on a visit to the local offices of 15 parliamentarians serving the citizens of Bucharest. We found some surprising results.
Jipa, UNPR. Office received as a gift
Friday, 11 September. I start with the office of the UNPR senator Ruxandra Jipa, in District 6. On Bârsănești street, a footstep away from Iuliu Maniu boulevard, the office of senator Jipa is hidden in a building where a supermarket and a restaurant operate.
Near the sliding doors of the shop is a small poster with her name on it as well as a telephone number. As you walk in, the first room that dazzles your eyes is the restaurant’s dining room, otherwise empty, but decorated with colored bows and balloons. A few stairs up, apartment 1 – where Ruxandra Jipa should be waiting for her troubled electors – the door is locked.
Before I get the time to turn around and leave, a girl comes up from the restaurant to welcome me: “Who are you looking for?”. She then directs me towards a corpulent woman who is obviously not the senator.
“I am her counsellor. And also the owner of the Loredana restaurant”. Ms. Lili, as her employees call her, offers to give me more details on the functioning of the office, but not before ordering two coffees with milk. We walk into apartment 1 and have a seat; she- on the senator’s chair, me – on the citizen’s seat.
The office is a room of 20 square meters with a desk. Ruxandra Jipa is not present, but she “sometimes comes by”, Ms. Lili gently mentions. She owns the whole building and rented the office free of charge to her boss from UNPR. “She has a free lease for the space”, Ms. Lili explains.
Otherwise said, Jipa personally pockets the whole 5000 Ron for a space received for free from her counselor.
“But there must be some expenses with this office”, I insist. “Consumables, maybe?”, I ask Ms. Lili while looking to the files lying ostensibly on the desk. “What consumables? We print the agenda, sometimes, that’s true. The printer from the Parliament sometimes works, sometimes doesn’t”, the woman tells me, making a disgusted gesture.
And what exactly happens here, at the cabinet?
“There are four of us: 3 consultants and me, the counselor for the Parliament. Thursdays and Fridays I am permanently here if citizens are scheduled. They call me and we set the date for a discussion on Thursday or Friday. Ms. LIli generally comes after 11 am when she is in Bucharest. But, as I told you, people rarely show up”. More precisely, since the beginning of the mandate in 2012, exactly 67 citizens have stopped by.
According to the documents provided by the Senate at the request of PressOne, Jipa has settled 10,498 Ron in August 2015. Out of this amount, 4,537 Ron – the money for the maintenance of the local office – were justified by affidavit.
Mutu, PSD. “Not right now”
The next stop is a few bus stations away at the office of PSD senator Gabriel Mutu, the representative for District 6 City Hall. Given his focus on the 2016 elections, Mutu is concerned with his image. It is impossible to ignore his poster at the entrance of the building where, at the ground floor, a clockmaker has his business.
At the entrance I take a look at the table showing the maintenance costs. Mutu pays 122 Ron for the 2 bedroom apartment where his office is located. I ring the doorbell and a young man shows up at the door with a line that reminds me of Caragiale: “Mr. Mutu is not here right now”.
I introduce myself and the young man responds. “People do visit the office, you know. Often they enquire about insulating their block apartment and we address petitions to the city hall”, says the young man. “Mr. senator is out of town?”, I ask, but the answer repeats itself: “He is not here right now”.
The counselor says senator Mutu meets many citizens in the office and sometimes, he even works overtime. “People say they will be up to 5-10 minutes and even stay for half an hour”.
And, still, when can I find him? “Do you want an audience?”, he asks laughing. “I believe he will be here at noon, around 1 p.m.”.
PNL: Orban, yes. Nistor, no.
I leave behind the office of the PSD senator and decide to test the opposition. I arrive at two offices which appear to have the same address: those of the PNL deputies Ludovic Orban and Vlad Nistor. It turns out the offices are located at the PNL headquarter in District 1, Romană Square.
The logo with an arrow may be spotted from the distance, but the names of the two deputies do not appear at the entrance of the building. To get to their offices I must go through a second-hand bookshop.
After explaining what I am looking for, an employee from the second-hand bookshop guides me: “Mr. Orban – you will find him at the third floor. As for Mr. Nistor… I don’t know”.
I go up by the interior staircase and, at the third floor, in the deputy’s office, a secretary and a counselor welcome me. The counselor prudently says Ludovic Orban is “nearby” and asks me to wait.
Orban gets out of the office: “You thought you wouldn’t find me?” he waggishly asks. “I am always here. When I am not here, I will be at the party or the Parliament, but for sure I am somewhere”.
He tells met he frequently receives people in audience, sometimes even one hundred a week. “What about Vlad Nistor? Doesn’t he also have his office here?”. Orban looks puzzled. “I don’t know. I believe in Kiseleff”, he says, referring to the central headquarter of PNL.
Upon my exit the secretary tells me Nistor has his office on the first floor but has never seen him. “He now has a space in Kiseleff, but you will not find him there. I can assure you”.
Indeed, the first floor is quiet. There is no sign referring to any parliamentary office. The only clue is the address mentioned by Vlad Nistor on the website of the Chamber of Deputies.
I was not able to contact deputy Vlad Nistor for an explanation. According to the supporting documents the Chamber of Deputies provided to us, he settled, for August only, 8,689 Ron, out of which 4,646 Ron he would have spent for office furniture, transportation within the electoral division and protocol material for receiving guests at the cabinet.
Georgian Pop, PSD. Nowhere
My next stop is the office of PSD deputy Georgian Pop, the president of the Parliamentary Commission for the SRI control. The address provided on the Chamber website is the former headquarters of PSD District 1, now abandoned.
A woman from security kindly explains the headquarters of PSD District 1 moved last year. “Since Christmas there is no one here”, the woman says.
Maybe I can find the deputy at the new headquarter of PSD District 1, I tell myself. But the counselor who I ran into on the Maior Gheorghe Șonțu street tells me Georgian Pop does not have the office there. Hence, I call the number provided on the Chamber website, but the answering machine lets me know the number is no longer is use.
In August this year, Georgian Pop has settled 7,300 Ron, out of which over 5,200 Ron were used for the maintenance of the parliamentary office.
Sturzu, PSD. Only on Tuesday
It is noon when I arrive at the office of PSD deputy Mihai Sturzu, located in Drumul Taberei, at the PSD District 6 office. An old security guard tells me I’ve got the wrong day. “You should come on Tuesday, between 5 and 6”, the man says, pointing out Sturzu has not come around for a while now.
I ask the security guard of the schedule just to make sure. Instinctively, he provides a new timetable. “Between 6 and 7, so to say.” On the website of the Chamber of Deputies, Mr Sturzu, the head of the PSD Youth, states that he has office hours for the citizens in District 6 each Tuesday between the hours of 16.30 and 20.30.
Mihăilă, UNPR. No longer with PNȚ
In theory, the office where UNPR deputy Ioan Mihăilă works should be easy to find: a few steps away from Unirii Square, heading towards Rosetti Square. Effectively, the chaotic numbering of the buildings in the area makes the office a mystery.
I search, step by step, for almost half an hour before deciding to call his counselor, Anca Mirion. This one is surprised: “I don’t know if you will find him if you go there, he may be at lunch.” She is missing from the office herself.
“But can you provide a reference point?”, I ask. “Rosetti Square, around there”. Finally, after fumbling around some more in the area, I arrive at Rosetti Square. The address indicated by Mihăilă is the main headquarter of PNȚCD, party to which the deputy belonged to before switching to UNPR.
Although the building is closed, a young man at the entrance tells me Mihăilă’s office used to function here, but not for a year. “Now he belongs to another party, he left from here and he no longer has his office with us.” He is surprised that the deputy joined UNPR.
For his fictitious office, Mihăilă received from the Chamber of Deputies, in August, the amount of 9,100 Ron, and 5,475 Ron was used for “office maintenance”.
A week later...
Tudorache, PSD. “We’ll call you”
Friday, 18 September. I go to the office of PSD deputy Daniel Tudorache located on Maior Gheorghe Șonțu street, in the building of PSD District 1, where, last week, I looked for Georgian Pop. I am luckier today: the only parliamentary office in this building belongs to Tudorache, as explained by his counselor.
Upon asking whether I could talk to the deputy, I get the same standard answer: “Currently, Mr. Parliament member is not here“.
The counselor is young and she tells me Tudorache usually comes to the office around noon, when he receives audiences. “If you give me your phone number, when Mr. deputy arrives we will call you to set a meeting”, she promises.
I leave her my phone number, but the promised call never comes. The counselor told me that Tudorache does the same with all citizens requesting audiences.
Pelican, ALDE. Not on Friday
The same situation occurs at the office of senator ALDE Dumitru Pelican, located in a blue building where a beauty salon functions. A brunette counselor tells me the member of Parliament is not at the office.
No one knows when he will come back, but I assure you Pelican grants audiences. Around three per week, the same as with Tudorache, I leave my phone number.
This time, the phone rings later. The counselor lets me know that the senator may have me on Tuesday or Wednesday. Not Friday.
Popescu, PNL. Finally
I interrupted PNL deputy Dan Cristian Popescu, representative for District 2 City Hall, from a discussion he was having in the office on Iancului Avenue, located in a pretty spacious two-storied house.
“Around one hundred people come every week. On Fridays I am always here. If there is an event where I must be present, I move the audience day to Thursday. We have [audiences] on Saturday and Sunday as well, there are many legal issues. It is a sort of trading in influence, we intervene before the authorities but do not go further, we do not represent them in court. However, we have people that receive ambiguous answers from the Public Domain Administration, District 2 City Hall. It is a problem the mayor rarely grants audiences. There are also people who come for money, but we cannot help those”, Popescu says.
He admits that there are very few parliamentary offices helping citizens. “I am not really familiar with others in my area”, the deputy says.
Bănicioiu, PSD. Only the security guard
After meeting Dan Cristian Popescu, I head towards the office of PSD deputy Nicolae Bănicioiu, located in a central area near the Israeli Embassy. I find locked doors, a sign with the name of Bănicioiu on it and a security guard from the embassy.
Alarmed by my photographing of the headquarters the man politely asks me to identify myself. He knows there is a parliamentary office here but has never seen any activity at all.
Tudorie, PSD. Did not have the chance
In theory, on 180 Mihai Bravu Avenue I should find the office of PSD deputy Violeta Tudorie. I run into a small natural products shop and notary office, but there is no sign the building hosts a parliamentary office.
I ask at the notary and I am told that “there is a Ms. Tudorie staying here”, but certainly not an office where she would receive an audience. The same answer I get from the saleswoman from “Natural Products”. I ask for the administrator’s telephone number. She is a woman: “There was a Ms Tudorie here, I do not know if she lives here anymore, but there is no parliamentary cabinet at this address”.
I call the deputy to clarify things. Ms Tudorie answersthe Mihai Bravu address is brand new, but she did not have the chance to spread the word she moved her cabinet here.
“I moved there a month or two ago. That is the address, but I didn’t have the chance to put a sign or anything. People know, they look for me, they come around 20-30 per week. They find me, how would they not find me? They call me or the counselor”, says Violeta Tudorie.
Then, out of nowhere, she says a “thank you” and hangs up. In August, she cashed 9,400 Ron from the Chamber of Deputies, out of which 5,181 Ron was used for the maintenance of the parliamentary office.
Rădulescu, PNL. Doesn’t know his address
The office address of Cristian Rădulescu, PNL (ex-PDL) senator, is not provided on the Senate website. Still, upon searching the Internet, I found in databases a telephone number and an address: 3 Hristo Botev. Getting there however, I only come across the Ornithology Romanian Company.
Upon entering the elevator, a resident of the building says she never heard of any parliamentary office.
I call the senator and ask him for the correct address. He abruptly answers: Hristo Botev street, number 1.
I tell him that I went to number 3 and found nothing, so he guides me in a parental manner: “It is on the corner, that’s why you didn’t’ find it”. He points me towards the former headquarter of PDL District 3. I therefore search for the address of the former orange subsidiary and discover it is on Hristo Botev, but at number 31.
Therefore, the senator does not know the address of his own office. In August, he cashed 5,246 Ron for maintaining it.
Popa, PSD. Students’ center
Nearby is the office address of PSD senator Florian Popa, but at the indicated address there is a students’ center. “Here is, and has been for years, the Medicine students’ center, a student tells me, smiling. “Maybe a medical office”, she jokes.
Popa could not be contacted for explanations either.
Barbu, ALDE. The website is to blame
Lastly, my final destination. Here I should find senator ALDE Daniel Barbu, according to the data on the website of the Senate. I only come across the old Liberal Coffee House, now in a state of disrepair.
I call the senator to find out whether he has an office or not. He says he has moved in the meantime. “I do not know why they have not updated the website, but people come in audience. I receive a lot of people in a week, but, surely, the number varies.”
After this pilgrimage of searching for those, who every Friday, should be at the office listening to the concerns of their constituents I realized there is a true problem in our system. Especially since they receive substantial amounts taxpayer money each month for this purpose! I sent requests to the Chamber of Deputies and Senate for supporting documents of the Parliament members I did not find or who, moreover, have no office at all.
Both the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate sent us the requested data that we used in the above text. A dilemma remains: while the website of the Chamber lists the address of the parliamentary offices, the Senate website does not provide contact information or financial information for the local offices.
For example, while documenting this material I searched for the address of the Bucharest office of PSD senator Ecaterina Andronescu, as she only references the address of the Senate. Therefore, I asked the Senate about the amount spent for maintaining the electoral division cabinet. We were told 5,249 Ron….but where is the office?
They make the law, they choose how to apply it
How is it possible that half of the taxpayer money allocated for local offices gets handed over to parliament members based on signing an affidavit? It is simple: they have created the law to pay themselves.
The law regarding the activity within the electoral divisions is in Article 38 of Law No. 96/2006 on the Statute of the deputies and senators: “For the purpose of exercising their mandates in the electoral districts, the deputies and senators are granted a monthly cap amount from the budget of the Chamber of Deputies and, respectively, the Senate for organizing and functioning the expenses of local parliamentary offices”.
Neither this regulation nor the Statute make it clear that the members of the Parliament are obligated to undertake any activity in these offices. Consequently, there are no sanctions. From this perspective, the presence and work of the members of the Parliament in the electoral divisions is, simply, a grey area.
From the same legal Article we find out who decides the manner in which the money is allocated: the Parliament itself. The most recent regulation in this respect is the Decision of the reunited Permanent Offices No. 5 of 2013, which provides, at Article 12, the money paid for cleaning materials, consumables, protocol and maintenance “are established at the maximum threshold of 50% out of the cap amount”
These are the expenses deputies and senators can only justify through an affidavit. They are on average 5,000 lei per month. Interestingly, the latest ruling, unlike previous ones, does not put a limit on the spending in this category.
Millions of Euro, annually
Bucharest has 49 members of Parliament: 33 deputies and 16 senators. Each get 5,000 Ron for signing an affidavit.
49 x Ron 5,000 = Ron 245,000 per month (almost Euro 55,000).
The chosen ones get the same amount during holidays as well. Multiply 55,000 by 12 (months). Over Euro 650,000 are annually transferred from the budget of the Parliament solely to Bucharest’s Parliament members.
How much does the Parliament spend for the maintenance of the offices where its members should be working each Friday?
There are 383 deputies and 165 senators, hence 548 members of the Parliament. 548 x 5,000 Ron = 2,740,000 Ron per month. In one year the amount raises to approximately 32,880,000 Ron, or more 7,3 million Euro.
Over 7.3 million Euro for the maintenance of electoral division cabinets are allocated based on mere affidavits.
But the total amount dedicated to the “territorial” offices is, as explained, double – the other 5,000 Ron per month represent the salaries of the personnel. This means that the activity in the local offices costs the Romanian taxpayers approximately 15 million Euro.
For this amount of money, someone should listen to us.