Public procurement

How the Local Government of Zîrnești Trifles the Public Money Away

Foto: CIJM
Author: Elena Moldoveanu
15/02/2016 10485

The local government of Zîrnești, district of Cahul has compromised a lot of projects with public funds, worth millions of lei. Over one million was thrown away for road renovation, but apart from potholes, nothing can be seen. The House of Culture was renovated, but the roof leaks as before. In the kindergarten, which is equipped with old furniture, everywhere were placed video surveillance cameras, purchased without any tender. To build an agricultural market, the mayoralty hired a relative of the mayor, and dubious schemes were applied during the execution of certain public works. The string of irregularities is completed by a decision of the local council based on which the mayor was allotted a plot of land from the public property to build a house. Mayor Victor Pascal admits that he committed some misconduct, but he says that the irregularities are "small" and he did them "because he is a human, not a robot and he does not get into the essence of all documents he signs".

The misdeeds committed by the local government of Zîrnești were reported on the Corruption Map.

Our roads… worth millions

The road from Zîrnești to Paicu (a community under the local government of Zîrnești) is a drive from one pothole to another.

According to the local authorities, five kilometres of road were renovated and rehabilitated in December 2013: three kilometres in Zîrneşti and two – in Paicu. A total sum of nearly 1.2 million lei was spent. Half a million came from the Reserve Fund of the Government, other 684 thousand lei were allocated by a decision of the local council and 344 thousand lei more were spent for the purchase of sand and gravel. The mayor says that less than it was allocated was spent - 750 thousand lei for road renovation services and over 340 thousand lei - for sand and gravel. The renovation works were performed by the company "Rutador" which was selected among four bidders: "CRDSL Cahul" Municipal Enterprise, "Rutador" LLC, "Constructorul Sud" JSC and "Alex Construct" LLC.

The former mayor of Zîrneşti, Nicolae Bejiu, who is currently the chairman of the Budget and Finance Committee of the Local Council, says it is not clear how "Rutador" came to renovate the roads in the commune, because before that - in summer of the year 2013, a tender took place and another company was selected – “Drumuri Cahul” JSC. “I was a member of the committee, then they expelled me and another auction was held at which Rutador was the winner. They said that the first company failed to do the works, two months had already passed and nothing was done. Rutador was then performing works at the bridge near the village and I learned that it won the tender. The tender took place by October-November. Perhaps, there were some other hidden interests, if just before the New Year, the Government allocated 500 000 lei. What quality of works, if everything was done before the New Year, and it was snowing, when they were putting the gravel?! They did not put sand at all, although such works were provided for in the specifications. There was something shady", Bejiu says.

Also in 2013, a tender for the purchase of sand and gravel was held, after which was selected "Total-Auto" LLC, the only registered bidder. The irony is that the sand was in the community, and almost half of the quantity was obtained after demolishing some platforms belonging to the local government. The mayor says that money was spent only for the gravel which came from the privately owned platforms, and a large portion of it was second-hand and purchased elsewhere.

"I recognise that some road sections were always swampy and unstable. Such complex works require a technical manager, and we hired - Rutador LLC. The mayor is not a specialist in road construction. That's why, my   responsibility is not as great, as the technical manager’s. This person shall sign all documents of acceptance of the works. So, if you have any questions about the quality of the roads, please talk to the technical manager!", Victor Pascal replied.

Rutador: There wasn’t any tender, they gave us the materials, and we performed the works

Photo: gazetadesud.md

Nicolae Maliu, the director of the company "Rutador", does not remember about any tender for road renovation works in Zîrneşti. He says his workers were working at the bridge near the village and they were asked to give a helping hand to road renovation after "Drumuri Cahul" JSC, the company who had won the tender, failed to carry out the works. "They have not had any claims about the poor quality of the roads. In fact, they could not have any objections, because there was no tender where we might make an offer of materials, prices. Nothing at all! We repaired the roads, using the materials provided by the mayoralty. There were no specifications! And there was no offer of prices from our side. In fact, they just requested the services of our machinery. I do not know what the mayors did in practice. We used some gravel extracted on the site where we built the bridge. The material we extracted was not of so good quality, but the mayor insisted to use it for the road", Nicolae Maliu stated.

He also added that the mayoralty insisted that the works were done immediately, that is in December 2013, even if road works should never be done in winter time. "Such works should not be done in December, when it snows! Such works shall be performed in October, at the latest. The weather conditions do not permit performing them later, but we did them, because they insisted to help them", said Maliu.

Mayor: A tender was held and we insisted on speeding up the works 

While the head of the company Rudator says he does not remember about any tender, the mayor Victor Pascal argues that everything was done lawfully and the tender was repeated, because “Drumuri Cahul” JSC, the company that concluded the first contract, delayed the start of the works, and then demanded the prolongation by three months of the period for service provision. According to the mayor, a second tender was organized to select a company to perform the road renovation works. He states that, after the tender, the company "Rutador" that concluded a contract  was allocated 750 thousand lei: 250 thousand from the local government budget and half a million – from the Government. Pascal confirms that he insisted on speeding up the works, because there was no more than a month until the end of the year. The mayor says that the contract with “Drumuri Cahul” JSC was terminated amicably and the company was compelled to reimburse over 68 thousand lei to the local government - the money allocated in advance, without requesting any penalties and damages.

“We did not want to do harm to the company, it could get blacklisted, so we decided amicably to terminate the contract, after what they had to return the money and we would select another company to take up the works as soon as possible. “Drumuri Cahul” JSC committed to finish the works on 31st of December 2013, but later the company said it could perform them not earlier than in April, and we did not accept it. I went to see the director of Rutador, the company working at the bridge, we discussed and he agreed to participate in the tender. We could not do without a tender, because such works can be done only after a tender", Victor Pascal said. Even so, the tender was held for the execution of road foundation and renovation works, as specified in the decision of the tender board, but in fact not more than services have been provided, and the works were done in a sloppy way.

Another dubious scheme

Thousands of lei have been taken out from the budget of the local government of Zîrnești through a scheme "invented" by Mayor Victor Pascal to clean up the village dump. "Rutador" was performing reconstruction works at the bridge of the village, so, given that the company had the required equipment, the mayor thought to use it for some works at the dump, too. But the company’s employees refused to be paid directly in order "not to have problems with the chiefs". Therefore, the contract was signed with a villager who was employed for 20 hours with 350 lei / hour. A total sum of 7265 lei from the local budget was transferred to the respective person, but in fact that money finally came to an employee of "Rutador", the company which did all the works.

The mayor recognises that he is the author of the scheme: “We picked up the trash on an area of ​​two hectares or so. Certainly, now that almost three years have passed since then, the trash is back, but I can prove my innocence. Since Rutador LLC was in our village and it had the required machines, I came up to the workers and asked them to do some works - to pile the trash. They said they did not want that the chiefs involve and they preferred not to do it at the level of the company, so they proposed to conclude a contract between me and one of the workers. Afterwards, the respective worker said he did not want to be the signer of the contract, because if the boss found it out, he would have problems. So, he introduced me to his landlord. I signed a contract with the latter. I understand that I committed a misdeed, I recognize it 100%, but I did not take any advantage of it. I concluded a contract with Zorilă Nicolae, then he received the money on his account and transmitted it to that person".

While being contacted by the reporters of the Centre for Journalistic Investigations, the director of "Rutador", Nicolae Maliu, said he knew nothing about this case. The case was investigated by the police. Ghenadie Furdui, investigator at the Criminal Prosecution Department of the Ministry of Interior, informed us that a criminal suit was started against the mayor. The mayor is charged with forgery of public documents and the case was sent to court. Victor Pascal does not reject the accusation. "It's my fault indeed, but the works have been done. I understand that is was not correct from the legal viewpoint, but this is our country, this is the system. Otherwise, the guys would not have done the works. Do you understand me? I would have problems with the villagers!", the mayor says.

He hired his relatives for the construction of the market 

Another project in which misdeeds were committed is the one for the construction of an agricultural market in the centre of the village. In 2013, 85 thousand lei from the available balance of the mayoralty were allocated for this purpose, and this amount was subsequently supplemented with five thousand lei.

A service provision contract was concluded with a natural person who committed to pave 100 square meters of grounds for the price of 23 509 lei. Later, another contract worth 22 833 lei was signed with Andrei Pascal, who the mayor says is his distant relative. Sources within the police told us that the mayor’s father was also involved in the works. The mayor denies it, even though some villagers confirmed that they had seen his father doing welding works at the stalls and Andrei Pascal told the financial investigators that he had shared the money with Valeriu Pascal (the name of the mayor's father), with whom he carried out the works. "People can tell a lot", said the mayor. He claims that Valeriu Pascal is Andrei’s brother, not his father.

On the other hand, the former mayor of Zîrneşti, Nicolae Bejiu, who is currently the chairman of the Budget and Finance Committee of the local council, declared that he had seen the mayor's father performing works at the village’s market. “There is a conflict of interest, because he had no right to involve his relatives in the works, particularly without any tender. We, the councillors, opposed at the beginning, but then closed our eyes. The stalls were welded in his father’s courtyard, then installed at the market. After the execution of the works, a contract was signed. At first, he told us that they would do it for free, but after a couple of months he said that we had to pay", Bejiu says.

The local government spent a total amount of 90 thousand lei for stall assemblage and pavement works. The Law  provides that tenders shall be organised for public works whose cost exceeds the amount of 50 thousand lei, what has not been done. "The estimate of expenditures was done by the Directorate for Constructions of the district of Cahul and it amounted to 120 thousand lei;  when we saw that amount we thought - why to hire a company, if we can buy the materials and hire someone just for the works, it will be much cheaper", the mayor explains. A few weeks after the interview, the mayor told us that a wave of thefts started in the village and all the pavement disappeared from the market.

The mayoralty’s car at the dump of the village

Four years ago, the mayoralty remained without its car - a Moskvich produced in1980, which was worth 35 thousand lei. The car was written off, because nothing but the carcass remained from it, Victor Pascal says. There was a panel of four people who made a decision, but the document does not have their signatures. “The car was thrown away to the village’s dump, as it was not good for anything. When I became a mayor, the car was disassembled", said the mayor, while some villagers say he sold the car for scrap. The former mayor, Nicolae Bejiu, recognizes that the car was disassembled when his position was taken over by Pascal, but he says that his successor sold it for nearly one thousand lei to a villager who was gathering scrap metal.

He does not have a driving licence, but he uses his car at work

Now, as the local government remained without any means of transport, the mayor decided to use his own car for job purposes, but using the public money, even though he has never had a driver's licence. In 2015, the Financial Inspection of Cahul made some controls  at the mayoralty of Zîrneşti and found out that Pascal received a monthly compensation for 60 litres of diesel fuel, often without the consent of the councillors. In 2013, he received over 12 thousand lei without the vote of councillors, and last year - 4000 lei, again without the permission of the local elected officials. As a result, the local budget illegally suffered losses amounting to 16 800 lei. "For a year, I stopped taking money for the fuel, although I should take, because a mayor cannot work without a means of transportation", Pascal says.

It is not clear how the mayor drives a car without holding a driving licence. People in his entourage say that the mayor escapes fines, because his godfather works in the district police department and the former head of Cahul Police Inspectorate, Ștefan Nucă, is his relative. The mayor does not deny that Nucă is a relative of his, and as far as his godfather is concerned, he states that "he no longer works in the police". In the same time, Pascal said that he began driving courses two years ago and he will soon pass his exams and get the licence.

Old furniture and video surveillance cameras at the kindergarten

The inhabitants of Zârnești are discontent with the fact that video surveillance cameras were installed at the kindergarten, although it was not provided with new furniture for years.

"We will find money for the furniture, too", was the mayor’s reaction. He says this was not his decision: "This was the decision of the local councillors, and the money was allocated from the local budget". A total amount of over 72 thousand lei was allocated from the available balance, without any tender. Some parents expressed discontentment, claiming that the video records could fall into the wrong hands and be used for bad purposes. The discontentment was also displayed through a social network, where a page named "Zîrneşti day-to-day" was created to undertake the monitoring of the decisions made by the local officials. The mayor argues that the decision to install video cameras was made after many people complained about the inappropriate behaviour of some educators. He mentioned that the cost of the final works amounted to about 45 thousand lei, or less than the amount allocated by the councillors. He also said that the furniture will be purchased later, as the priority is the heating system, which costs 650 000 lei, an amount that the local government lacks.

A cracked roof after capital renovation

A number of misdeeds have been committed during the roof renovation works at the House of Culture in Zîrneşti (the contract), completed in 2015.

The roof still seeps, although 386 000 lei were allocated for its repair. Later, the winning company increased by over 13 thousand lei the cost of the materials. As a result of the control, the financial inspectors found out that the increase was unjustified and the local government did not get a revenue of 212 386 lei, because the company delayed the works and no penalty was applied by the contracting authority. This amount was calculated for the period 3rd of August 2013 – 31st of July 2015 (the day when the control took place). "In addition to the mayor, there is also a technical supervisor. I wrote many letters to the respective company, asking them to come and do the work properly. They came and added a layer on a surface of ​​200 meters and, after that, there was no seepage and everything seemed normal, but then it began again. They said the problem was not in the roof, but in the walls, therefore the water flows", the mayor explains.

On the other hand, Nicolae Bejiu said that the respective company caused a lot of damages, but it was not penalised: "When it was selected, the company was already involved in some works in the village - ecological toilets at school. We decided to change the roof, because it was of ruberoid. The company removed it and left for a couple of months, it rained and all the parquet swelled, a lot of books in the library were destroyed. Then the company returned, they did something, but the roof seeps anyway. All the works done in Zîrneşti and Paicu cost a lot of money. Such sums were not appropriate".

He built a house without having any documents on a ground allotted by the mayoralty

Despite the problems faced by the community, the mayor is going to move to a new house. He built his house on a plot of land  allotted by the mayoralty while he was in office. He chose for himself a ground right next to the school and the kindergarten, and ... not far from his workplace, and erected his house without any permit. He was only sanctioned after an inhabitant denounced him to the police, but he paid a symbolic fine - 600 lei, established after a lawsuit, and got rid of the problems. "The house was made with my personal money, with my wife’s and my mother-in-law’s money, who works for more than four years in Italy, she has a daughter and a son, they built their houses and now she helps us. You can believe, if you want to", he defends himself.

In his turn, Nicolae Bejiu says that more than 40 young families, including Pascal’s, were allotted plots of land for building a house: "There was only a small misdeed – all of them had to draw lots, but he was let to choose the ground he wanted. The councillors allowed him to choose, justifying that he had worked a lot on the planning of the area and he deserved that. Pascal wanted that plot and he did everything to have it".

„You cannot steal from the mayoralty…”

The mayor, who won a second term, admits that he committed some irregularities in his work, but he describes them as "small" and says he did them out of ignorance. "I consider myself quite right in what I did. Maybe, there were some small deviations, which I did out of ignorance. But I did not do anything intentionally. You cannot make money at the mayoralty, you cannot steal from the mayoralty or take something, because the payments for most of things are made by the means of bank transfers", the mayor of Zîrneşti argues.

After the interview, I called the mayor for some clarifications. "I hope not to have any heart problems", was the mayor’s reply. "The economic police has just left", he added. "You think you are the only? So many come to us ... We are not robots, we are humans. There were about 20 controls during nearly two months. One comes, another goes ... I am a human! And they do not come to find out something, but to press on you psychically, press and press, until you either hang yourself, or quit your job", the mayor said with a manifest discontentment. He believes that all the troubles come from a policeman who lives in Zîrneşti and has a personal vexation, after the mayor halved the salary of his wife, because she had it abusively.

"For half a year, I was subject to control after control. I am young, I have two children. These days I had the last straw, I took a loan of 80 thousand lei from the bank and all radiators in my house were stolen. My wife tells me to quit the mayorship and go to work abroad. All are against me. I did not kill anyone, there is no evidence that I stole something. I was brought to courts in several lawsuits, but not for bribery! There is a mistake, the law says that the one who writes the data is liable for that, I sign a lot documents at the mayoralty, I am not a robot and I do not get into their essence, if the accountant did them, it means that everything should be all right and I sign, if the secretary did them, the same", the mayor of  Zîrneşti concluded.

What the experts say

Olesea Stamate, President of the Association for Efficient and Responsible Governance, says that this case „is a perfect example of how the public money shall NOT be used”. In her opinion, such irregularities are among the most frequent committed within the public procurements: dividing the procurements in order to avoid the more transparent procedures, executing works without any contract or contracts signed post-factum, alongside with the classic conflict of interest which is very specific to our society. “As far as the mayor of Zîrnești is concerned, all these misdeeds come together, giving the impression that, in fact, he benefits from any community procurement to his own advantage. The mayor himself made an interesting comment: « You cannot make money at the mayoralty, you cannot steal from the mayoralty or take something, because the payments for most of things are made by the means of bank transfers ». Does it mean that he would like to steal, but he can’t ?.. It’s sad if the public servants/the elected local officials conceive the public money as personal money, and our communities remain as poor and under-developed, as they were", Olesea Stamate added.

The investigation has been done in the framework of the Campaign „Public Money Is My Money Too”, conducted by the Centre for Journalistic Investigations (CJI) and the Association for Efficient and Responsible Governance (AGER), within a project funded by the European Union and the National Endowment for Democracy.

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