The Authorities of the Capital City, "Eminent" In Squandering Money for Derelict Schools
At least ten schools of Chișinău municipality have been closed over the past years because of the small number of pupils. Beyond the decision about their closedown, the authorities intended to make savings. However, the reality shows that, in the absence of a clear strategy, the buildings of phantom schools still continue to devour millions of lei from the municipal budget. Experts argue that an estimate of the number of pupils and schools should be done and that planning of the use of empty areas should be done based on the respective figures: either to change their destination, or to rent them to private educational institutions, as a result of public tenders.
For nearly one year, the municipality is financing the capital renovation of the former gymnasium no. 52, closed three years ago, because of the small number of pupils. The school building, located on Cornului street, in Buiucani sector, has three storeys and an area of over 4,000 square meters. According to the design plan, the school was intended for at least 600 children. When the decision about school closedown was made, the institution had less than 100 children, most of them being afterwards transferred to a nearby lycee. Shortly after that, the authorities decided to start the renovation of the abandoned building, intending to reopen it when the renovation is completed. After the closedown of the school, five people still continue to work there: three guards, a janitor and the head of the auxiliary service. In an official response sent to the Centre for Journalistic Investigations, the Capital Constructions Directorate of Chișinău municipality pointed out that the total amount of renovation costs is over 8.8 million lei. According to the contract signed on 9th of July 2014 between the Directorate for Capital Constructions and Varincom LLC, the company selected to carry out the works, the renovation of the building was to be completed one year ago, in May 2015. Throughout the past year, no less than two million lei were invested in this institution. The money was used for full roof renovation and for strengthening building no. 1, at the level of the roof, with reinforced concrete belts. In addition to it, the facade of building no. 3 and the walls in the sports room were plastered, and additional works were performed in buildings no. 2 and no. 3 in order to make possible the execution of roofing works. The remaining part of his contract amounts to over 6.8 million lei.
“The difficult situation” on the construction site thwarted the plans of the authorities
At present, the works are stopped because of some cracks, as confirmed by the Capital Constructions Directorate. According to this directorate’s representatives, “the situation on the site is difficult and practically all the works have been stopped”, being necessary to modify the design plan. The technical expertise of the buildings was performed by IMP Chișinăuproiect, the company that won the tender for the provision of design services to the above-mentioned institution. But while developing the design plans, the employees of IMP Chișinăuproiect used a technical expertise made back in 2007, which recommended the consolidation of cracks appeared in the exterior and interior walls of the limestone block masonry. According to Grigore Rotaru, technical director of the Directorate for Capital Constructions, the works might only be resumed after a new technical expertise.
Being contacted by the Centre for Journalistic Investigations, Tatiana Nagnibeda-Tverdohleb, the head of Education, Youth and Sport Directorate of Chişinău Municipal Council (CMC), stated that the school might reopen on 1st of September 2017, if the renovation works are completed by then. Another condition, equally important, is that the school gathers a sufficient number of children. “In this area, a lot of new houses are being built, we believe that there will be children wishing to attend this school”, Tatiana Nagnibeda-Tverdohleb added.
The former school no. 52 is not the only educational institution in Chișinău where public money is invested without having a clear final aim of such expenditures. The Centre for Journalistic Investigations has previously written about two phantom-schools with budgets of hundreds of thousands of lei – the former gymnasiums no. 3 and no. 6 of Botanica sector. One year ago, the reporters revealed that 1.5 million lei were spent throughout two years for the two abandoned buildings. The largest share of money was spent for paying salaries to the directors and the guards, and the rest of the amount - for repairs. Although these institutions are not functional since 2012, the Municipal Council of Chișinău has delayed for a long time their formal closedown.
Relatively recently, the authorities started renovation works at Gymnasium no. 3, a building for 980 seats, intending to transform it into a school with inclusive practices. Chişinău Municipal Council issued two decisions concerning the allocation of resources for preparing the building for the transfer of children from “Pro Success” inclusive school. “Children with various disabilities attend this school and the kindergarten premises (where the school is now located – editor’s note) are no more sufficient. This hinders the institution’s development. A kindergarten will be re-opened in the building after the transfer of children”, says Anatol Ivanu, head of the Education, Youth and Sports Directorate of Botanica sector of Chişinău.
According to the official, investments of over three million lei have been made in the building so far, the money having been used to replace the windows and for the engineering networks: cold and hot water supply facilities, sewerage, heating system, electricity network, etc. But the works are still far from being completed – the floor and the stairs need to be renovated, etc. And taking into account that children with special needs will learn in this building, the authorities should also think about adapting the building for wheelchair access, what requests a lift and ramps. Anatol Ivanu estimates that there is need for two million lei more to complete the works. “The budget for 2016 has not been approved yet. At this moment, it is difficult to make a close to the truth prognosis. We expressed our expectations, now let's see what the councillors will decide”, Anatol Ivanu said. Previously, Tatiana Nagnibeda-Tverdohleb estimated, within a dialogue with the reporters of the Centre for Journalistic Investigations, that the building of Gymnasium no. 3 might be ready in August and that children from “Pro Success” might move into it in September.
“I am not going to move to a stable. I do not know who told it to you, but that building needs repairs. They have just replaced the windows and nothing more. The walls are falling down, as no lessons have been done there since 2014. As far as I know, the money was allocated just on paper. I cannot afford to move with the children and parents no matter where. It is true that we do not have enough area here. This year we have even more applications”, Nadia Cristea, the director of “Pro Succes” lycee declared.
A school rented without conducting a public tender
School no. 6 is another institution closed in 2012. Its building was derelict for over three years, a period during which the building has degraded, and the municipality has paid at least one million lei for its maintenance and for the salaries of the several remaining employees. On 19th of May 2015, the Council passed the decision to rent the building whose total area is over 10,000 square meters to the theoretical lycee “Horizon”, a private educational institution, for further location of a new school. The administration of the private lycee committed to perform the building’s renovation and restoration. On the other hand, the decision of the municipal council was challenged by Chișinău Territorial Office of the State Chancellery, being invoked the fact that the municipal council had infringed the legal provisions, as there was no public tender for the lease of the building under consideration. Or, according to the Law on local public administration, the alienation, the lease or rental of the goods of administrative-territorial units shall be done as a result of a public tender. CMC has also infringed the Education Code which stipulates that the assets managed by the educational institutions can be leased or rented for a term not exceeding five years.
The magistrates of the court of Centre sector of Chișinău pointed out that the lease of the building should have been done as a result of an open public tender, giving priority to the bid offering the highest price.
A town hall instead of the school
The Town Hall of Durlesti, a suburb of Chișinău, is now located in the building of the former school no. 84 of this village. The institution, in which Russian was the language of instruction, was closed several years ago. At that time, the school had only 64 pupils. According to the chief accountant, Larisa Vitiuc, the employees of the mayoralty moved from a very old building to the school building by the year 2010. A decision of the local elected officials allowed that temporary displacement, until the reconstruction of the Town Hall’s old building. “All the required measures have been undertaken, but the project was stopped, because of the shortage of money. We have not changed the destination of the institution. We have renovated the building: the windows were replaced and the heating system was repaired. We spent a total sum of about 800,000 lei”, Larisa Vitiuc explained.
According to a study conducted previously by Expert-Grup, during the period 2005-2012, an average number of 430,000 pupils per year were educated in schools of the Republic of Moldova, with a strong tendency towards the reduction of the number of pupils each year. “We could remark a tendency towards the decrease of the average number of pupils per school, from 333 pupils in 2005 to 263 pupils in 2013. While the number of schools decreased by 10.2% (157 schools were closed), the number of pupils decreased by 29.2%”, according to this study.
Olesea Stamate, President of the Association for Efficient and Responsible Governance (AGER), argues that the lack of strategic planning applies to most fields in the Republic of Moldova and local public administration, including the one of Chișinău, is not an exception from this perspective. “Unfortunately, under the conditions of an austerity budget, money is still being pumped in buildings with an uncertain future. Or maybe it is uncertain for us, the ordinary citizens, and those at the helm of the city have well-drawn plans for them. I cannot find any another explanation for such “gestures of charity”. If they are still not ill-intentioned, being a result of maladministration, then there is only one solution: assessing the need for schools in Chișinău, based on the number of pupils and on the demographic trends. The results of such an assessment should lie on the basis of planning the use of the former school premises which are no longer needed as schools and changing their destination. Or, why not, such buildings might be rented to private schools, but obviously after a public tender. In both cases, the municipal budget will gain, not lose, as it is happening now”, Olesea Stamate believes.
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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