A review of the headline-grabbing events of the past week...
Investigations in the Caracal case continue
More detailed searches have been conducted in the past week in the Caracal case, where the investigations into the disappearance of two teenage girls, 15-year-old Alexandra Măceşanu, who went missing in July, and 18-year-old Luiza Melencu, who has been missing since April, led to the arrest of a 66-year-old man, Gheorghe Dincă, who has confessed to killing the two girls and burning their bodies. On July 24th, 15-year-old Alexandra Macesanu disappeared after taking a free car- lift to Caracal. She called the emergency number 112 three times, but authorities were unable to locate her. Investigators started searching the home of suspect Gheorghe Dinca, aged 66, in the morning of July 26th, 19 hours after the girl had called. After being detained, Dinca confessed to having killed two girls, aged 15 and 18, and then having burned their bodies.
Alexandra's DNA was identified in the ashes picked from the suspect's home and the investigators found new fragments of bones and teeth near a forest in Caracal. Tests are to establish whether they belong to the other kidnapped girl, Luiza Melencu, who disappeared in April. In the meantime, field searches and hearings continue. The prosecutors' department of the Superior Council of Magistracy has called on the Judicial Inspection to conduct verifications at the Directorate for Investigating Organized Crime and Terrorism and the prosecutor's offices within courts of first instances and tribunals. The verifications target the way in which criminal cases on human trafficking have been prosecuted, as well as those on minor trafficking, killing and deprivation of liberty. The various flaws identified in the Caracal case have already triggered resignations and dismissals, including from among ministers.
State Secretary with the Interior Ministry, Raed Arafat, announced on Wednesday a series of measures aimed to reform the 112 emergency hotline. He announced that legislation in the field needs to be improved, people working in the system must be better trained and that more centers for their training must be set up across the country. PM Viorica Dancila has announced a government ordinance instating harsher penalties, including life sentence, for rapists, murderers and pedophiles. Interior Minister, Mihai Fifor, has announced in his turn a reform of the ministry he heads. The Government has analyzed, at first reading, the bill on searching missing persons. The bill stipulates the possibility for the missing person to be localized without opening a criminal file first and also the setting up, as a police department, of the central unit 'Missing persons' and of the emergency dispatch 'Missing minors'.
Budget adjustment, postponed
The Government in Bucharest has postponed the first budget adjustment this year. Under the proposed budget adjustment, the Finance Ministry will be granted additional funds, of which an important part is Romania’s contribution to the EU budget. The Environment Ministry, the Labor Ministry, the Romanian Intelligence Service and the Regional Development Ministry will also receive more money from the state budget.
On the other hand, the Education Ministry has its budget slashed. The amounts for personnel expenditure have been decreased considerably, but the Finance Ministry gives assurances that wages are secured until the end of the year. The Finance Ministry also says that the GDP went up to around 219 billion euros from the initially estimated 210 billion euros. Also, the Ministry points out that the payment of pensions and salaries is not at risk. Under this budget adjustment, the amount for the restitution of the special tax and of the pollution tax for cars is also secured. From the opposition, the Liberals are asking the Government to withdraw this draft, which they see as false, and come up with a new one, based on real data and able to provide the funds needed to ensure public order and safety, for education, health and transport.
The Liberals say the measures to be taken by the Government will only increase the chaos in the public finance sector and that the Government has given up the taxation of special pensions. The Finance Minister, Eugen Teodorovici, says that the mechanism for the taxation of special pensions is still work in progress and that it is to be decided whether to be passed through emergency decree or as a draft law in Parliament. Moreover, Teodorovici says, the budget adjustment does not involve slashing funds from ministries such as the transport, health and education. In another development, the National Bank of Romania (BNR) maintained at 4.2% the inflation forecast for the end of the year and estimated a 3.4% inflation rate for the end of 2020. The Central Bank governor, Mugur Isarescu, has explained that the two main factors that make prices go up are salary increases and excessive demand and has said that the Central Bank will try to discourage it, without affecting lending. Also, according to Isarescu, state authorities must take measures to reduce budgetary current account and fiscal deficits and the correct approach is to stop deficits from growing and to gradually address these imbalances.
Iohannis-Trump meeting at he White House
The President of Romania, Klaus Iohannis, will be received at the White House on August 20 by the US President Donald Trump. The White House news release reads that President Donald Trump looks forward to celebrating together with his Romanian counterpart 30 years since the fall of communism in Romania and the 15th year of Romania’s membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. The White House also announced that the 2 leaders will discuss how best to meet the many shared security challenges facing the United States and Romania and ways to advance fair and reciprocal trade and energy partnerships. According to the Romanian Presidency, Klaus Iohannis will emphasise that Romania will continue to be a reliable strategic partner and a responsible and trustworthy ally of the US. (Translated by Elena Enache)