In early December, the Romanian parliament passed amendments to the country’s criminal code that make certain public officials exempt from corruption charges, including bribery, conflicts of interests and abuse of office.
Here’s how they did it: By altering the definition of the term “public employees,” the amendments effectively remove members of parliament, the president and other public officials from the scope of anti-graft legislation. To make matters worse, the parliament spent a grand total of zero minutes publicly debating the amendment, which was passed without comment from the judiciary or civil society.
President Traian Basescu — who must sign the amendments for them to become law — has publicly acknowledged his disapproval of the legislation. The president should veto this flagrant abuse of power.
Such a dramatic change to the country’s anti-corruption regime brings into question the parliament’s willingness to act in the public interest. Currently, over 28 members of the Romanian parliament have been convicted or are awaiting trial on corruption charges. Over 100 mayors, who would be exempt under the amended legislation, are also under investigation. And the former prime minister was recently sentenced to four years in jail for accepting bribes, a welcome sign that the judiciary is continuing to prosecute public officials for corrupt behavior.
The dangerous changes to the country’s anti-corruption regime proposed by the parliament fly in the face of several international agreements ratified by Romania, including the Criminal Law Convention on Corruption of the Council of Europe and the United Nations’ Convention on Corruption.
Exempting elected officials and public servants from corruption charges betrays public trust and brings into question the ability of the parliament to serve in the public interest.