The Global Pandemic and the National State of Emergency Cannot Stop the President’s Dream to Repair the World War II Memorial
Two years ago, Moldova’s President Igor Dodon promised to repair the Eternity Memorial Complex, a monument built in the memory of Soviet soldiers who died in World War II battles against German-Romanian troops.
As the entire country came to a halt in a state of emergency due to the coronavirus pandemic, repair works at the Memorial are in full swing. The repair works started in mid-March, under a contract signed just days before the state of emergency was declared, and will be completed in time for May 9 celebration. On 9 May, the pro-European Moldovans commemorate the victims of the Soviet regime and mark Europe Day, while the pro-Russian Moldovans mark the Victory Day, and Moldova’s attachment to the Soviet Union.
And while the Ministry of Defense is spending around 150,000 euros to repair the Memorial Complex, the Government and the Chișinău Town Hall are running crowdfunding campaigns for hospitals and doctors who are fighting the coronavirus in the frontline.
On March 13, 2020, Moldova registered eight cases of coronavirus. The virus, which killed over 60,000 people worldwide, pushed the authorities to consider a national state of emergency.
On the same day, the Public Procurement Agency registered the contract between the Ministry of Defense’s Agency for Resources and Administration of Patrimony and Magda company for repair works of the basic elements of the Eternity Memorial Complex, worth around 115,000 euros.
“Access forbidden. Repair works.”
According to the contract, repair works were to start on March 18, 2020, immediately after the decree instituting the state of emergency, and end by April 30, one week before the socialist government in Moldova plans to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Soviet Victory in the World War II.
On March 31, repair works were in full swing. The main entrance is encircled by a red ribbon and the message: “Access prohibited. Repair works.” On the territory of the complex, several men are working and scaffolding is surrounding the constructions. Outside the Memorial, repair works are also in full swing. Workers dismantled pavement tiles on the access road to the Memorial and are unloading new tiles to replace them.
A Romanian company name was written on the car that brought the pavement tiles. The workers who were unloading the pavement tiles refused to talk and avoided mentioning the name of the employer.
Four companies were interested in repairing the Memorial, proposing a lower price than that suggested by the Government.
The tender for the repair works of the Eternity Memorial Complex began in February 2020 when the Ministry of Defense placed the tender announcement on its website. The Ministry estimated the cost of the repair works to 146,000 euros and planned the works to be completed by April 30, 2020. Four companies submitted their offers before the March 5 deadline. The tender evaluation method was the lowest price offer. The four companies offering different prices included:
1. Magda company – around 96,000 euros
2. Moncomtex company – around 100,000 euros
3. Sud-Terra company – around 108,000 euros
4. Zagorlar company – around 115,000 euros
Magda offered the lowest price and won the tender. The other three companies, which participated in the auction didn’t file any appeals. Thus, on March 13, the Public Procurement Agency registered the contract between the Ministry of Defense and Magda Company. The final value of the contract, including all the taxes, is around 115,000 euros.
The general contractor is a company with dozens of public contracts. Its management avoids discussions on the subject of repairs at the Eternity Memorial Complex.
Mihail Munteanu, manager of Magda company, founded it in 1992. The company signed several contracts with the state. In the last years, the company carried out repair works or delivered furniture for several state institutions.
In 2018, the company signed another important contract worth about 347,000 euros and repaired the administrative blocks of the Ministry of Finance. And in June 2019, the company signed its biggest contract worth over 323,000 euros with the Ministry of Defense for capital repair of the presidential orchestra headquarters.
ZdG tried to talk about the tender and the repair works at the Memorial with representatives of Magda company, but without success.
ZdG phoned the manager and the founder of the company, but another man answered the phone and told us that Mihail Munteanu is not available and that he cannot give us his contacts. He added he could not provide any information about the repair work of the Memorial, after which he turned the phone off, and subsequently did not respond to calls. We tried another phone number of the company and left our contact number, but nobody called back.
Former and current Minister of Defense (do not) talk about the tender.
In a discussion with ZdG, Mihail Turanin, the procurement manager at the Ministry of Defense, stated that the works are being carried out within the stipulated terms, by Magda company. At the same time, he said that he did not participate in any discussions on stopping the bidding procedure, considering the situation in the country, caused by the coronavirus. “The money (for the works) comes from the state budget. The tender procedures started before the state of emergency was introduced. Respectively … I do not know, maybe the minister, at the level of management, had some discussions; as for me, as executor, I did not receive any indications.”
Meanwhile, Minister of Defense Victor Gaiciuc at the time the tender was approved, returned to his positions as Dodon’s counselor on national defense and security problems and Secretary of the Supreme Security Council. ZdG asked the former Minister of Defense, Victor Gaiciuc if there were any discussions on suspending the tender while he was minister. Gaiciuc told us that he had not attended any meeting on this subject, mentioning that when the tender was initiated, the situation in the country was normal. Gaiciuc then told ZdG that he cannot offer information on the subject, and redirected us to the current managers of the Ministry of Defense.
ZdG asked the current Minister of Defense, Alexandru Pânzari, who was appointed on March 16, the same question. Pânzari told us that he did not sign any documents related to the tender and the repair works of the Memorial. “We have other priorities now and we have to deal with them,” said Pânzari.
In the last two years, Dodon promoted the idea of repairing the Memorial.
Dodon first mentioned repairs at the Eternity Memorial Complex in April 2018. His decision came after visiting the Memorial on the eve of May 9th Victory Day as well as in response to numerous petitions, stated a press release.
Dodon stated that most areas in the Memorial were in a disastrous state and presented a real danger to the health and life of the visitors. Dodon said that the Complex is a monument of national importance and that a great number of people will visit on May 9.
Therefore, he asked the Government and the Ministry of Defense to ensure the safety of the events dedicated to Victory Day and the commemoration of the heroes who died for the Independence of the country through all the technical and aesthetic norms.
Dodon pointed out that if funds fail to be identified for the capital repair of the Memorial, he will start a social fundraising campaign.
“The [funds] may be internal or external, from Russian partners, for example …”
However, the capital repair took place neither in 2018 nor in 2019. In January 2020, the subject reemerged. After a meeting of the Supreme Security Council, Dodon declared that the Memorial repairs are a prior objective for this year, adding that Russian partners could provide the necessary funds.
“It’s the 75th anniversary since the end of World War II or the Victory Day in the Great Patriotic War – different people qualify it differently. However, it is an important event for us all, for the citizens of Moldova, for all of Europe. The Complex is in a deplorable state and if we want to respect what our parents, our grandparents did for us … They gave their lives. This Complex needs repairing, as hundreds of monuments in all localities have been repaired over the last few years. Now about the funds. These may be internal or external, from Russian partners, for example … I know that the Government has this issue in view. On questions of how much, when and how the monument will be repaired, I think you can ask the people in the Government,” declared Dodon.
The Government responded, allocating around 207,000 euros for the repair works of the Complex on February 5. The Government estimated the costs based on the information received from the Municipal Design Institute “Chișinău proiect.”
The former Minister of Defense inspected the Complex this February and noted that it was in a deplorable state.
On February 12, Victor Gaiciuc, the then Minister of Defense, accompanied by representatives of the Chișinău Town Hall, the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Economy and Infrastructure, as well as by specialists from the National Army, evaluated the Eternity Memorial Complex.
Following the verifications, the Minister of Defense mentioned that the monument, which was repaired in 2006, is in a deplorable state. “We found, with regret, that most of the constructions are in a disastrous state and present a real risk for the visitors’ health and lives. I am convinced that this Memorial must be repaired. Thousands of Moldovans died on the battlefields in that war and it is our duty to remember them by taking care of the places where these heroes were buried,” said Victor Gaiciuc.
The then Minister of Defense added that, in the shortest time, the responsible institutions were going to develop a plan for the Memorial’s repair works, estimating expenditures and the specialists’ expertise. “It is important to ensure transparency while implementing this plan so that the society knows how the renovation proceeds and how the money allocated for this purpose is spent,” the then Minister Gaiciuc said.
A few days after this visit, the tender was announced, and Magda company was selected with a contract worth around 115,000 euros. However, the authorities did not make the information public.
The Court of Accounts established illegalities in the capital repairs of the Memorial from 2006
In 2006, a communist government led by Vasile Tarlev, decided to repair the Eternity Memorial Complex. Initially, the Chișinău Town Hall was responsible for the Complex, and Vasile Ursu, then interim mayor, approved the beginning of repair works.
After Moldconstruct Market company, affiliated with Vladimir Voronin’s family, the then President of Moldova, gave up on the contract at the first stage, Galeria de Piatră company was appointed responsible for carrying out the works. The money to complete the works, around €2.2 million, was allocated from the state budget and the Chișinău Town Hall budget.
In 2007, the Court of Accounts issued a report revealing that the total cost of the repair works amounted to €2.9 million. At the same time, the authorities managed to pay, until the Court of Accounts began the report, around €2.2 million, accumulating debts of around 700,000 euros.
According to the Court of Accounts, more illegalities have occurred in the process of repairing the Memorial Complex. Thus, according to the papers of receiving the works, Galeria de Piatră, the contracted company, executed only 10.5 percent of the works, worth around 300,000 euros, while around 24 subcontractors executed 89.5 percent of the works, worth over €2.5 million.
Moreover, while examining samples of concrete paving lumps and sand-cement mixtures in the stone substrate, the experts concluded that the company used low-quality materials.
Former owner of the company that repaired the Memorial was criminally prosecuted but acquitted in 2014.
During that period, the State Inspectorate for Construction undertook a control, which showed that two subcontractors and the main contractor exaggerated the volume of executed works. Construc-D company, a subcontractor, exaggerated the volume of executed works by over 127,000 euros. Folcons-Com company, another subcontractor, exaggerated the volume of executed works by over 197,000 euros. And the main contractor, Galeria de Piatră company exaggerated the volume of executed works by over 146,000 euros. Moreover, the court identified other unjustified expenses, opening a criminal case. However, the prosecutors have proven a smaller injury, of over 108,000 euros.
Thus, Elena Gusenco, the owner of Galeria de Piatră, Dumitru Bîrsanu, the supervisor of the construction, as well as Serghei Novicov, the main specialist at the Town Hall Capital Construction Department and the technical manager of the construction site, were sued, being accused of fraud, falsification of documents and dereliction of duty.
Prosecutors asked for 14 years in prison for Elena Gusenco, 12 years in prison for Dumitru Bîrsanu and five years in prison for Serghei Novicov. According to the prosecutors’ statement, the defendants incurred damages of over 146,000 euros. According to the prosecutors, Gusenco and Bîrsanu by agreement with Svetlana Nohai, who managed several companies employed as subcontractors to repair the Complex, will have overestimated the value of the construction materials, in the documents, by over 21 times. Subsequently, the construction materials worth around 6,000 euros were valued for over 127,000 euros. At the same time, they will have used fewer materials than indicated in the documents when placing the foundation under the pavement.
In March 2014, the Supreme Court of Justice acquitted all three offenders. “The conclusions of the nominated expert reports could not serve as the basis to issue a sentence of conviction of the named offenders, because their conclusions are incomplete and insufficient and have not been objectively confirmed with other relevant and conclusive evidence existing in the case materials,” the judges concluded.
The state paid damages of over 25,000 euros to the same company.
After they were acquitted by the state, Elena Gusenco and Dumitru Bîrsanu sued the state. In their application, they stated that the criminal prosecution institutions started the criminal investigation against them unreasonably, and the case was pending in the courts, for six years. During this period, the company stopped its activity, and the state ceased to transfer the amount of around 500,000 euros, from the state budget, for the works carried out at the Eternity Memorial Complex. As a result, the subcontractors filed a lawsuit regarding the debt collection. And on October 31, 2008, due to the lack of funds, the insolvency process against Galeria de Piatră was initiated, and on January 9, 2014, the company was dissolved.
Gusenco demanded from the state damages of over 300,000 euros as missed income, over 10,000 euros as missed salary and around 50,000 euros as moral damage. Bîrsanu demanded over 55,000 euros for moral damage and the lost salary.
The Buiucani Court, a court district in Chișinău, ruled that Elena Gusenco will receive over 35,000 euros, and Dumitru Bîrsanu around 25,000 euros, the moral damage representing around 25,000 euros. Subsequently, several appeals followed, and the case reached the Supreme Court of Justice and was sent to re-examination. Finally, in April 2017, the Supreme Court of Justice judges rejected the appeals filed by Elena Gusenco and by the Ministry of Justice, leaving in force a decision previously issued by the Chișinău Court of Appeal.
“Following the principles of fair and reasonable compensation of moral damage, moral suffering, stress, and frustration, the court estimated the moral damage to around 4,000 euros,” the magistrates from Chișinău Court of Appeal established. In the end, Elena Gusenco received, from the state, over 15,000 euros, while Dumitru Bîrsanu received over 10,000 euros.
Today, Galeria de Piatră company is in the final phase of liquidation. Meanwhile, Elena Gusenco, the owner of the company, died. According to the public information, the company did not receive from the state the 500,000 euros it claimed, regarding the repair works of the Eternity Memorial Complex. At the same time, according to the information provided by Adrian Chilaru, the liquidator of the company, there is no documented information today regarding the amount of money that went into the accounts of Galeria de Piatră for the repair works of the Eternity Memorial Complex in 2006.
Asked about the Memorial repair works, Dodon claimed that now the citizens are a priority. However, he mentioned that stopping the repair works and reallocating the money might cost more than executing the works.