The ‘Moldovan Villages’ Program: Billions of Uncontrolled Lei

The ‘Moldovan Villages’ Program: Billions of Uncontrolled Lei
03 November 2008 | 07:28

In March 2005, at President Voronin’s behest, the nationwide program ‘Moldovan Villages’ was launched, aimed at improving Moldovan villagers’ living standards by 2015. Three years after the scheme was launched, 25.7 billion lei has already been spent; if this amount of money had been equally divided, each village would have received 2.5 million lei, however, inhabitants in some rural areas in Moldova have not even heard of the project. Moreover, after two weeks of contacting the government, it finally informed Ziarul de Gardă that 2.5 billion lei has been spent, yet failed to name a locality where any of the money has ended up. Experts have refuted the government’s claims, instead stating that the scheme is politicised and that the budget is divided according to political criteria.

In order to find out just how much of this program has been accomplished, we asked the government a few questions about what has been done and where the money has been spent, yet after two weeks all that Ziarul de Gardă received was an envelope containing a copy of the scheme’s outline – information that is available on the government’s website. The information posted there contains many promising words about the Moldovan Villages program and what is being done, yet nothing is mentioned about its budget, or how, why and to whom the money is distributed. After this, hundreds of phone calls and dozens of meetings with clerks of various ministries ensued, where we always posed straightforward questions: what have the millions been spent on, which villages have received money and what projects were carried out there. Whilst waiting weeks for an official response we managed to visit several villages to see for ourselves what is being done.

Government gives Soroca 2% of the money allocated for the project

According to the Moldovan Villages project, the expense for developing rural areas is to be covered by three sources: the state budget, and the regional and local administrations. It implies that supplying villages with gas, providing them with potable water, installing sewerage networks, improving the health and education of the villagers, repairing and maintaining roads, providing care for elderly people and many others is meant to ensure a decent life for their population.

Iurie Bolboceanu, a member of the Parliamentary Commission on Economy, Budget and Finance, considers it an ambitious project that will never be realised: “the cost of the program is over 40 billion lei; Moldova, on the other hand, could hardly supply 200 million in 20 years. By then, in 2030, the program’s contents will be outdated and no longer viable because a good project should be completed within five or six years. However, in our case, if a couple of dozen million lei is allocated for supplying gas, it doesn’t mean that it will actually be carried out,” the deputy said.

Total cost of planned action for 2008 in Soroca’s development program (approximate statistics).

District budget21 million lei
State budget0.9 million lei
Local budget1.2 million lei
Other sources32 million lei
Total57 million lei

The road is bad; that is why the bus is old too

The road from Soroca and Holosnita is very bad. “That is why the bus is old. Who would break a new car on such roads full of holes? For they haven’t been fixed since God knows when,” the bus driver complained whilst keeping his foot on the breaks on the way to this Moldovan village.

After a quarter of an hour, the jolts got harder and our eyes and mouths were filled with dust. Only women and children coming back from the market were onboard, and this was my opportunity to find out their opinion on this great national project that includes Holosnita. I asked Viorica Stirbu if she had ever heard of the Moldovan Villages program, but she didn’t know anything about it. I told her that it involves improving rural living standards and she laughed, replying ironically: “when you enter the village, you’ll see no gas, water or roads. Our roads will be fixed when we are dead.”

“Nothing has been done in our region for many years and we have given up hope of having gas or water,” Valentina Bujor addd. She has been working for many years as a cook in the village, but because her 500 lei salary doesn’t cover her living costs, she sells cabbages and tomatoes at the market in Soroca. “I have lots of tomatoes, but nowhere to sell them. I’ve made 160 lei today, I’ve paid 50 lei for the trip and a place in the market. I’ve also bought 20 chickens for 85 lei, but nobody can guarantee they will live and the money is finished.”

“Whether there is mud or ice, we die here, because even the ambulance can’t come here.”

The report on implementing the Moldovan Villages project shows that during 2006-2007, 30% of the 370 projects planned for the 10-year program’s execution period were accomplished; the people of Holosnita have a different opinion.

The secretary of Holosnita local council, Maria Manascurta, said she has heard of the project, but nothing has been done in the village. “We also want water, roads, gas, but who listens to us? Whether there is mud or ice, we die here, because even the ambulance can’t come here.”

Nobody comes to the village and none of the college graduates come back, the mayor of Holosnita, Veaceslav Groapa, said. Almost half of the 1,720 inhabitants of the village are abroad and 70 % of those who have gone overseas are under 40. “The village is getting old, because those who do not find a job here, go to Russia,” he told us.

Groapa stated that, for Holosnita, throughout these last three years the Government has hardly spent any money there, only on fixing the roof and windows of a school. “The window’s wooden frame was so rotten, that after poking it with a finger, a hole appeared. We received the money after knocking on many doors for two years,” he explained. “The school’s stoves have also been fixed, but it was due to money taken from our city hall budget.”

The reality is different from what is written on paper

The mayor of Holosnita feels that the reality is different from what is written on paper. “The money is usually first offered to bigger villages, which have bigger schools. The money is not enough for everyone,” he claims.

The children of this village learn from an early age about the bad luck of the Moldovan Villages program; the village nursery has only 35 places and that is why dozens of children stand in a queue hoping to get a place in one of its groups. There is an abandoned building in Holosnita that would have served as nursery, but it was never finished due to a lack of finance.

Although 280,000 lei is necessary for repairing and expanding the nursery’s territory, the local budget can cover 80,000 lei, and they are waiting for the rest to come from the government. “They’ve promised to offer us the necessary amount, but we continue waiting for it,” the city hall secretary said.

“The money is offered to those with a more acceptable eye colour”

Valeriu Guma, member of the parliamentary commission on Economic Policy, Budget and Finances, told us that a lot of money comes from foreign grants, especially for infrastructure, yet they are mentioned as Moldovan Village activities. He feels that “there is no separate compartment for the program’s budget and no detailed report on activities and expenses.”

Throughout June we sent the government and the Ministry of Finance letters asking for the following information: What is the exact sum allocated from the budget for social assistance, health protection, education, gas and water pipe networks, roads and telephone networks?; How many villages have benefited so far from the program and in what field? Despite regulations of the law on free access to information, and despite the transparency principles assumed by the government, we have not received an answer to these questions. On the other hand, more and more experts believe that the money allocated for this project actually finances the city halls led by the governing party’s representatives.

Experts say that the state budget doesn’t allow financial coverage of all activities, thus, respectively, political factors interfere in the selection of the financed objects, Viorel Furdui, vice president of the Mayors League, believes. He also said that “there is little money and it is offered to those who have a more acceptable eye colour.” Guma also claims that this is a political program and the money ends up in the villages with communist mayors. Deputy Iurie Bolboceanu agrees that this project was launched in order to favour the city halls based on political criteria, “especially because two-thirds of mayors are communists.”
Even though the mayor of Holosnita is a member of the Communist Party of the Republic of Moldova, the money received from the budget is still not enough because “we are also divided there according to preferences,” he explained us us.

Anatol Popusoi, councillor for Holosnita city hall, believes that the Moldovan Villages program is unreal. “What kind of Moldovan village is it, if the people have nothing to eat, old people are left on their own and the young ones flee? If nothing changes, the village will die in five years. We don’t have a sign at the village’s entrance at the minute, but soon we won’t even need one.

Vegetable greenhouses – Holosnita’s business

The youngest teacher in school, Iuliana Celan, came here after college because she couldn’t get used to city life. Of her 800 lei salary, she manages to pay her phone and electricity bills. “If my husband and mother were not abroad, I don’t know how we would manage, living in the village is horrible, especially teaching here, because pupils have no motivation. They can’t wait to finish the ninth grade and leave for Moscow with their parents,” she told us.

The two computers in the school are the only ones the village has. “Children play computer games, but don’t manage to learn a great deal of computer science; if you know how to switch it on, you already receive mark ‘5’,” Victor Grosu, city hall councillor, said.

Together with his wife, who is also a teacher, they take care of eight greenhouses, where they grow cabbages, radishes, cucumbers, peppers and tomatoes. The vegetables they grow can be sold only in the countryside, because they don’t reach exporters’ standards. In the villages of Soroca, all of the inhabitants work in greenhouses and the money from sales barely covers the investments this occupation needs. “I’m frightened by the numbers. This year we’ve paid 5,000 lei on hoses, 12,000 on tarpaulin, as well as on a motor for pumping water and gas for transportation; I don’t even want to do the calculations,” Grosu stated.

The number of households that own greenhouses decreases year by year because there is no market for the goods, while transportation is expensive and the water problem forces a lot of people to give up this occupation, ensuring supplying water is one of the Moldovan Villages’ failures.

Although the program’s budget for 2006 provides 150 million lei for water systems and sewerage networks, this objective has got the biggest problems. So far, out of a total of 1,549 rural localities, only 52 of them have centralised water and sewerage systems built or repaired; most of this was done with the help of foreign financing.

Data taken from the national program Moldovan Village implementation Action Plan (2005-2015), during 2005-2007, water and sewage chapter.

State budget20%
Local budget16%
National Ecology Fund6%
Foreign Investments58%

Houses in Moscow, crucifixion at home

A newsletter on the program’s accomplishments reveals that in 2007, around 22,000 unemployed people were hired to work on the project, a figure that represents 45% of those registered at the National Employment Agency. In Holosnita, the employees are the teachers, educators and shop assistants. There are some who are trying to maintain their greenhouses, whilst the rest went to Russia.

Gheorghe Bordeianu, aged 23, has just come back from Moscow where he works as a contractor, he comes home two or three times a year to visit his parents and grandmother. There are many young people like him in Moscow, even underaged ones, who work with their parents. “You starve here if you don’t go to Moscow. I’ve come home to rest for a couple of months,” Bordeianu said while holding his bags, so not to fall.

He sends home to his mother the money he manages to earn working in Moscow, of the remaining money, he pays for rent and living costs; only now has Gheorghe heard about the Moldovan Villages program. He would like to see the things that he hears put into action so that he would have a reason to come home.

Elderly people who cannot work on a Russian building site leave the village as well to go to the market in Soroca, Lidia Popusoi sells milk and cheese there: “this is our solution. In our village people live on what they make at the market. I don’t know how we could live otherwise. In summer we gather money and keep it for winter. Things are getting done in other villages, but in our village, other than the crucifix on the side of the road, nothing new has appeared, they could at least bring us gas,” Popusoi affirmed, pointing to the road. It’s the village’s central road and was paved a long time ago, but now it doesn’t even have stones on it.

On paper we are in 2010, in reality – 2001

Supplying the Soroca district with gas is considered a failure, even by its president. “We fix schools, change roofs and put windows in with our own hands. The biggest problem is the heat,” the district’s president, Mircea Martaniuc, stated. By the end of the current year, the authorities of Soroca plan to connect schools and city halls from 18 localities out of a total of 57 to the gas network. However, the state budget can cover only the process of bringing gas to the boundaries of villages. From there, city halls must supply gas to public institutions, and people – to extend the gas pipes network to their houses, if they have the resources.

Due to a lack of finances, in 2007, 185 localities included in the Moldovan Villages program were left without a gas supply, in spite of the fact that “in the Republic of Moldova, the process of supplying gas is in constant growth,” according to the executive’s reports, and in 2006, the indicator’s plans for 2010 have already been achieved.

Not every inhabitant of the villages can afford to pay for a gas supply because of the high prices. Thus, the networks are not being used. “When one starts to search what is really going on, one can see that the money is wasted, just like the case of the houses of culture. Of course, we can’t say that houses of culture or gas pipes are not necessary, but transparent and precise calculations are required,” Viorel Furdui, vice president of the Mayors’ League, stated.

Tudor Soitu, an independent economic expert, claims that in the gasifying projects supported by the Social Investments Fund, one metre of gas pipe doesn’t cost more than 50 lei, yet for the localities that sign a contract with specialised companies, one metre is over 160 lei. At the same time, according to Soitu, there are many illegalities in the gasifying processes. “For example, in the program of national gasification, it is mentioned that the gas networks will be built at a cost of 86 lei for one metre, whilst the list of expenses for the 19 kilometres of gas network at Parlita-Cornesti shows an investment of 1,200 lei for every metre of the network.”

“Who listens to us?”

Grandfather Mitrunea, as they call the oldest man in the village, no longer needs gas. He doesn’t believe he will be alive when it does arrive, and doesn’t wish to be either.

He has no children, and his wife passed away many years ago. Since then, Mitrunea has been living on his own and is now 89; he doesn’t know anything about the Moldovan Villages scheme. He spends his time out in the field taking care of his corn because his pension doesn’t cover much. “I spend as much as I have. I haven’t been home since morning and haven’t eaten since then. I only took with me a bottle of water and a blanket to have some rest.” If he could, Mitrunea would like to tell people in the government what it is like to live in a Moldovan village, but “they are up and we are down. Who listens to us?”

Development strategies overnight

Citizens of Holosnita, as well as Soroca, don’t really know what is included in the Moldovan Villages scheme, nor how much it costs. Furdui believes that other villages and districts are unaware of this too. The schemes that appear overnight like mushrooms after the rain become a big problem for the country due to their lack of transparency.

“The strategies are adopted in an ostentatious manner with strong declarations, but without any impact whatsoever on common people, people in villages and small cities. In 2005 a trade strategy was adopted, while in 2008 a new and better one appeared, without the existence of a report on the previous program. There are no public projects that reveal what has been done so far and what else is needed,” Furdui added.

The Moldovan Villages scheme looks good on paper, he said, and the reason behind this is that most of the successes recorded by the program were achieved with the help of foreign aid provided by the World Bank, Moldova Social Investment Fund, USAID and others. On several occasions the authorities in Chişinău have taken foreign loans into account in their reports. “How many houses of culture have been opened with the help of foreign funds, while the ribbons were cut by officials from the government, showing to the world that they did it?” he wondered at the end.

While looking to find out more about the billions invested in the Moldovan Villages plan, we made hundreds of phone calls to various ministries. Government employees directed us to the Ministry of Finance. Staff there told us that they didn’t have a detailed budget of the program and, if we wanted to talk to someone about the project, than we had to contact the Minister of Economy. The people in charge there suggested that we call someone from either the government or the Ministry of Finance. In the end, both the people in charge at the Ministry of Finance, as well as the the government told us that they knew from the beginning that we would not find a detailed budget of the program because one didn’t exist. This is due to the fact that the ministries offer only general reports on the project. We ended up with only a collection of phone numbers of various ministries, who tried to explain where the location of an institution in charge of this great, but useless project is.

Whilst the Moldovan Villages ‘advances’ with expenses worth billions, the villages in Moldova stand still. “It will be very hard for us to recover. A lot of people are going away to developed countries. It’s hard to bring them back because they see something else there and they need better living conditions which are hard to be offered here. Just because they plant nut trees, it doesn’t mean the Moldovan Villages program will be realised,” Martaniuc believes.

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