Sunday, 24 May 2009

The cost of expenses

The expense claims scandal that engulfed the British Parliament continues... but as it provides further tragicomic episodes, it is difficult not to see the cost of this scandal - and some of the costs are huge compared to the temporary humiliations and the destruction of public trust.

First of all, it is expected that the fascist British National Party (yes, they do send chills down one's spine) will gain vastly by the turmoil. It is capitalising on the public anger so much that even the Archbishop of Canterbury had to make a political stance and explicitly beg people not to vote in anger for the BNP. When trust and faith (or remains of them) in any major political party has taken a huge beating, then BNP's loud anti-Europe and anti-establishment messages attract a large number of voters - their scary fascist manifestos and agenda are secondary in many people's much narrowed field of view.

Then, more softly, there is that issue of... moral relativity. What is the true cost to society when the disgraced MPs, whose expense claim records hit the press, dare to treat the public to such manifestations as these handpicked ones below:
  • "The system is bad" - ah yes. Countless criminals, and even mass murderers, used this excuse throughout history. Sorry, but the problem is with individuals... who perverted the system to an extent worthy of Easter European parliamentary Mafiosi.
  • "It was a mistake", "It was an accounting error" etc. - these, and endless variations of these, make it sound as if anybody could defraud the country in any way and then go 'oops', without any repercussions whatsoever. I wonder what would happen if any humble mortal used the same line after let's say trying on a nice tax evasion trick...
  • "I will pay it back" - as some were made to, and other offered to. So if basically, you catch a shoplifter and he/she hands back the valuable item, it's all OK - again, no repercussions.
  • "The claims were approved and signed for" - right, so again, it's the system and someone else... not the individual.
  • "I am a hard working person, very busy, with kids" etc. - wonderful, great, brilliant... and it explains and absolves everything and everybody... just how exactly?
  • "People are just jealous of my big house" - this is perhaps the most amazing reaction from an MP. Right. So his scandalous fraud is somehow forgotten, what matters is the envious, pardon, jealous, public's reaction.
The list could go on. But... with such utter moral relativity (as any humble mortal trying on any of the frauds committed by hundreds of MPs and using such excuses would find him/herself kicked through the justice system after the first few laughs from the Fraud Squad), they truly set an example to kids and adults alike. A terrible example... of a world where laws and regulations don't matter at all.

It truly, really adds a very Balkanic dimension to all this... just that back there all this is normal and doesn't produce scandals... but in British politics, the damages done by this mess will reverberate for generations. In short-term, perhaps vast number of extra council and Parliament seats will be gained by the extreme right-wing, absolutely fascist party or parties of this political landscape of carnage.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

300 years... or 20 years

In my former home's Parliament, nobody really gets pushed to the point of deep embarrassment and has to resign and/or criminal investigations are launched against him or her, unless he/she is such a petty criminal that diplomatic immunity is taken away and even the EU steps in... as it happened recently.

In 20 years since the Revolution, Romanian politicians and MPs have evolved, one can say, beyond any physical realm and they are truly untouchable... unless again, they commit such petty crimes that, compared to stratospheric corruption and Mafia activities which are the norm, lead to them falling from those heights.

In Britain, it took 300 years to have the Speaker of the House of Commons forced out of the Parliament. With a speed that hopefully overtakes the speed of thought while some think I am making some parallel between the unfortunate gentleman's departure and the Romanian Mafia/Parliament (at home, truly there isn't really a distinction between the two, trust me and the facts...), I have to quickly emphasise: there is no parallel between the two Parliaments and the two countries.

The expense claim scandal that engulfed the entire British Parliament and the Speaker, who unfortunately focused on how the information was leaked rather than apologised and at least seem regretful, bares a number of key dissimilarities with Romanian realities:

  • In Britain, the publication of the frauds (as some are just comic, but majority are scandalous frauds committed by Ministers and MPs who very well knew and exploited the system that now suddenly all call ' a bad system' and their frauds 'regretful mistakes... purely because they hit the press... otherwise it would have carried on for hundreds of years...), well, has negative feedback loop. It leads to investigations, scandals, resignations, apologies (mostly empty gestures as no legal action is taken against chemically pure fraud that would drag any normal human being through courts immediately...). In Romania, anything published in the papers leads to a Goodfellas-style 'well, what you gonna do?' gesture from most... as billions stolen or diverted, extorted, cheated etc. are just the expected norm.
  • The Speaker has found himself the regrettable target of most of the anger - regrettable not because he is innocent, but because he's being made into a scapegoat. The problem is not him, but with anger focusing at him, attention is diverted from the outrageous and wilful frauds committed by most of the MPs, who, despite all this scandal, will never face legal proceedings brought against them. In Romania, the former leader of the House of Commons, in quite different manner, had to be pushed in front of legal action by even EU stepping in and diplomatic immunity had to be taken away, otherwise he would have been closing a deaf ear to all the media outrage... he would have stayed totally immune to 'public anger'. Politicians in Romanian are simply not that connected with the public to feel any level of anger, unless hundreds of thousands march on the streets and manage to smash up the building they are in... But then again, as Machiavelli very well put it, any ruler who thinks that he can control the fire on the streets he ignites is simply deluded... so even politicians in Romania are careful to repeat the events that took place in 1990...
  • The disgraced MPs apologise, are forced to pay back the defrauded sums, and ah yes, they do try to call all of the scandalous expenses 'mistakes', 'errors', 'bad accounting' etc. Of course, the single, one and only, unique reason why any of this is happening is that their actions have become public knowledge. Otherwise none of the regrets and apologies would be happening, nor the heated debates over the 'so corrupt bad baaaaad system' which was a perfectly good and maximally exploited system until... yes, it hit the press. In Romania, well, I am still waiting after 20 years for any MP to apologies for anything whatsoever... and their crimes are unimaginable in comparison.
One thing that has changed, though for both worlds... that Eastern absurd genetic hybrid between capitalism and old Balkan 'values' and this citadel of so-called democracy... The one thing that is common is that both now exist in the 21st century. Things - emails, CD-Roms, whatnot- get leaked to the press. There are long lenses and directional microphones... there are instantaneous bank transfers for a juicy CD filled with data that made the Daily Telegraph's sales skyrocket when published...

Things, in both countries, do hit the light of day and the optic nerves of Joe Public. What happens after that, though characterises both countries... and with the above differences highlighted, in many ways, no matter how amazing the current scandal is, I am somehow very grateful to have the opportunity to live in this, and not that, country and see these, and not those, things happen with its politicians.

Friday, 15 May 2009

Unacceptable...

I wrote extensively here about the various (well, infinite) shades and flavours of Romanian, and in general, Eastern European post-communist corruption.

Time to write a bit about the quite grandiose scandal that erupted around the British Parliament recently. In order not to duplicate the terabytes so far published in the media about this over the last few days of public anger, some things that should be said in addition... so let's see...

In a nutshell, the MPs expense claims have hit the press - and there were amazing, scandalous, outrageous and also downright breathtaking lists of perversions of the system, MPs from the main parties claiming amazing amounts of money for amazing things...

But now some party leaders have taken action and are loudly talking about the following:

1. The system - "the system is wrong"... Well, sorry, but numerous criminals or just plain dishonest people (or downright monsters) throughout history used this excuse. The 'system' i.e. the rule book very clearly states what an MP should claim for... so people for years going around this and violating the rules in every possible manner for personal gain, on taxpayers' money, is not the system's fault... it is the moral failure of individuals.

2. "Unacceptable" claims... Sorry, but the only thing that made these claims unacceptable was that they hit the press... Otherwise everybody would have carried on, as they did before, with the outrageous expense claims... Suddenly now all the moral champions trying to score electoral points (especially Mr. Cameron, who is a perfect in-the-flesh version of Yancy in Philip K. Dick's Mold of Yancy) are talking about unacceptable actions of MPs...

3. Taking action against these unacceptable claims, being forced to pay the sums back... OK, but again, none of this would be happening unless someone leaked the information to the press... So sorry, but someone now being a loud 'hero' does not actually score any actual moral bonus points: all he/she is doing is damage control in face of utter public shaming and... scoring bonus points for the next election.

It is remarkable how short is the short term memory of the people... vox populi always was and is based on that short term memory... Add to that the fact, that most people can not grasp the causality chain at work here, and suddenly you elevate a David Cameron to the level of a 'hero' who is now cracking the whip about 'unacceptable' expense claims... Oh, please...

Monday, 11 May 2009

Show me the money...

In 1990, just after Ceausescu was removed from power (and shot...), certain bits of information claimed that his bank accounts in various banks abroad amounted to about 400 million dollars.

The PM, Petre Roman, in 1990 kick-started an investigation into the dictator's bank accounts, Swiss and Canadian experts signalled that they found a trail of money - and their contract was suddenly terminated.

The matter of the Ceausescu accounts is back in the spotlight, due to the 'relaxation' of certain banking laws in Switzerland (as a result of the credit crunch fallout).

Interestingly, the Canadian expert has now declared that there are significant amounts of Ceausescu's money in Swiss bank accounts and those could be recuperated... but the Swiss expert who took part in the 1990 investigation denies this... also claims, that the Canadians made all sorts of dangerous claims back then and now.

Funny enough, the very same Swiss lawyer in 1990 declared that the leader of the Communist Party, Dan Voiculescu (who was connected to the huge funds hidden in those accounts) could even be arrested.

But now, 19 years later, Petre Roman says he doesn't even remember the investigation ordered by him... clearly, it was a small matter and easily forgotten :-)

Also, since 1990, various Romanian parliamentary committees have reached the conclusion that the Ceausescu accounts never existed.

Last year, a 'final report' done by a committee chaired by a subaltern of Dan Voiculescu (of course impartially...) declared that there is zero evidence of any Ceausescu money in any foreign accounts.

Amnesia, when it comes to certain aspects of the dictatorship, is epidemic in Romania, it seems...

The irony is... 400 million or even 4 billion dollars are peanuts compared to the amounts stolen, embezzled, diverted etc. by the various Romanian Mafia of the last 19 years... all of them sitting comfortably in the Parliament.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Ups and downs

The European Court of Human Rights last year judged the British DNA databases illegal - they held innocent people's DNA data for the last 12 years. Now finally, after much subterfuge and magician tricks pulled by the Home Office and its head Stalinist, Jacqui Smith, UK finally starts to act on this ruling.

DNA profiles of innocent people are to be deleted from the national database, but innocent people accused of serious violent and sexual offences who are released without charge will still have their genetic profile stored for 12 years under the Home Office plans.

Kids convicted of only one minor offence will be deleted from the database when they turn 18... so this means that totally innocent people - very much including children - will have their most intimate details stockpiled for years on a database.

So some progress, but it sounds like, as some put it, UK has to be taken to court once again... until this mess is resolved in a manner that aligns the UK to the rest of the civilised world.

To compensate for this partial good news, the much debated ID cards (yes, biometric data will be held on databases...) will have a go-ahead via retailers (yes, not kidding, high street shops!) taking part in collecting the data from shoppers.

They were deemed suitable for this and also security concerns over the data were said to be invalid. Scottish National Party's Home Affairs spokesperson, Pete Wishart MP, said: "It says everything about Labour's priorities that, when they are slashing essential frontline investment, they are throwing away billions on an unwanted, expensive and unnecessary ID card scheme."

Also, it hides the fact that the program needs an extra quarter of billion pounds...

So, now as another spin on the 'terror strategy', high-street shops will be potentially authorised to take your biometric data, send them to Home Office databases and then have the ID cards issued to you. Clearly, an improvement in Jacqui Smith's (very very limited but worthy of a dictator's) mind.