IMF talks collapse
Discussions between the Romanian Finance Minister, Traian Remeş, and representatives of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) about the release of the second phase of Romania's USD 540 million stand-by loan have ended without agreement.
Although the IMF praised Romania's progress in some aspects of the economy, such as the growth of exports and foreign currency reserves, they had concerns about other significant issues. The IMF highlighted the arrears of the public utility companies, wages in the state sector and the revision of this year's inflation target from 27 percent to 40 percent, as being of key importance.
Further discussions are to take place at the end of September prior to a final decision being made by the IMF board in October. Finance Minister Remeş said: "We have had different positions on certain issues, but nothing that we cannot reach an agreement upon. We have no reason to believe the release of the second tranche is jeopardized." (Nine o'clock, 14 September 2000)
The drought that has been plaguing Romania since April has led to the lowest maize crop in 30 years. Only 4.2 million tonnes of the crop have been harvested against a five-year average of about ten million tonnes per year. Trading in maize has come to a halt and storage silos are standing empty, along with the river barges that usually are busy moving any surplus at this time of the year.
Farmers who have grown maize are keeping their crops for animal food while those needing maize are trading animals in exchange—currency appears to have no worth. The World Agriculture Production Report produced by the US Agriculture Department stated: "This year's drought is probably the harshest that Romania has experienced in the past 50 years, and has reduced corn production to the lowest level in 30 years." (Reuters, 12 September 2000)
A series of military exercises are in progress across Romania that will go on until the end of September. Eight NATO countries are taking part, including the USA and the UK, together with ten countries from the Partnership for Peace programme that includes Romania.
James Rosapepe, US Ambassador to Bucharest, said, "We want Romania to be a strong candidate for NATO membership and such exercises are an important part of that effort." (Reuters, 12 September 2000) However, Rosapepe went on to say that Romania still needed to make reforms to its armed forces, emphasising a reduction in size and an increase in the skills base. Romanian Army Chief of Staff General Mircea Chelaru emphasised the importance of NATO membership to Romania. The current exercise is based in the Danube Delta and is focussed on a scenario of civil disorder and rebellion. Perhaps the forthcoming elections in neighbouring Yugoslavia (24 September) and the NATO exercises are not a co-incidence after all.
On Monday, the Romanian river navigators who had blocked Danube traffic for three days removed their barricades. The blockade was constructed at Calarasi in the Romanian sector of the river on Friday, resulting in over 20 barges from Ukraine, Bulgaria and Russia being prevented from carrying oil to Serbia.
The navigators met with Prime Minister Mugur Isârescu, Finance Minister Remeş and Transport Minister Anca Boagiu and agreed that all debts to the state incurred after the beginning of the Kosovo conflict would be cancelled.
The USD six million debt to the state has developed as a result of the continued blockage of the Danube in the Yugoslavian sector and the loss of trade as a result of the oil embargo on Serbia. Remeş also agreed that the duty paid on any fuel by the shippers would be reimbursed. Speaking from the United Nation building in New York on Thursday, Foreign Minister Petre Roman said that he would be asking the international community to put pressure on Yugoslavia to ensure that river traffic can, once again, use the Danube.
Roman wants further sanctions imposed on Yugoslavia if Yugoslav President Slobodan Milošević will not comply with Romanian demands. The Foreign Minister said, "Resumption of traffic on the Danube is of the utmost importance, it's in our national interest. We are talking about huge trade losses and thousands of lost jobs." (Reuters, 14 September 2000)
Ion Iliescu—presidential candidate
Former Romanian President and leader of the Party for Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) Ion Iliescu launched his manifesto for the presidency—"Close to the People, Together with the People"—at the weekend. Iliescu said, "I shall do whatever I can to make fighting poverty the priority of governmental and parliamentary actions." (Nine o'clock, 11 September 2000)
He pledged that his programme was Social Democratic, European and modern. Monitorul Online, however, describes his programme as, "a document randomly imbued with populist propositions, meant to impress the electorate, and with slogans about the European and the NATO integration, meant to impress the ears abroad, too." (Monitorul Online, 11 September 2000)
Iliescu used a visit to the United States this week to make sure that his manifesto was clearly understood in an attempt to meet the concerns of his critics in the International community. He commented that the starting point for creating a favourable foreign investment climate would be with reform and economic recovery. He assured those who were concerned by the possible return of PDSR to power that there would be no turning back—Romania has to move forward.
Victor Sahleanu, the Tepro trade union leader murdered on his doorstep has been laid to rest in the city of Iaşi. The funeral was attended by thousands of mourners who then marched through the city in his memory. On the following day, the Interior Minister Constantin Dudu Ionescu confirmed that seven people had been arrested in connection with the murder—which is being called an assassination by some.
One of those arrested in connection with the murder was Tepro Manager Victor Balan. Police sources said: "At this stage of investigations, the death of Victor Sahleanu seems to be tied to the sell-off contract signed by Tepro with Železárny Veselý (a Czech Company), which was about to be lost because of the unionists' opposition." (EvZ, 13 September) The threads of this crime link the Czech company, a security firm, the State Property Fund (SPF) and Ion Tofan, an unemployed person who came to Iasi "to do in" an unknown person for USD 100. (Monitorul Online, 14 September 2000)
On Tuesday, employees at the Tepro pipe works demonstrated to demand that the contract between the State Property Fund and Železárny Veselý should be cancelled. Radu Sarbu of the SPF said that discussions were taking place about the contract as the Czech company had failed to carry out its contractual obligations to modernise Tepro. There is, no doubt, much more to be revealed about this crime in the coming days. Subsequently there will be political profit to be made out of this latest Romanian scandal as the election season approaches. Already, a representative of PDSR has said: "Political crime has become the last weapon of the Emil Constantinescu regime." (RFE, 14 September 2000)
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