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Political will was not enough for justice reform in #Moldova


The lack of political will to carry out rule of law reforms is frequently the reason why reforms are not fully implemented. The case of Moldova proves that in societies where strong vested interests still persist, political savviness is equally as important as political will.

Old and new political power brokers in Moldova struck a fragile pact in June to oust Vladimir Plahotniuc. Plahotniuc had built a network of corruption and patronage with the help of the Democratic Party, which he treated as a personal vehicle and which allowed him and a small economic elite circle to enrich themselves off of government institutions and state-owned enterprises, to the detriment of Moldovan citizens and the health of their political process.

Maia Sandu, co-leader of the pro-reform ACUM electoral bloc, then formed a technocratic government with a remit to implement Moldova’s lagging reform agenda. Though made up of ministers with the integrity and political will to implement difficult transformational reforms, its biggest weakness was its coalition partner – the pro-Russian Socialists’ Party and its informal leader, Igor Dodon, the president of Moldova.

Now the Socialists – threatened by how key reforms to the justice system would impact their interests – have joined forces with Plahotniuc’s former allies, the Democratic Party, to oust ACUM, exploiting the party’s lack of political savviness.

Reform interrupted

It was always clear the coalition would be short-lived. President Dodon and the co-ruling Socialists joined to buy themselves time, with the hope that they could restrict the most far-reaching reforms and tie the hands of ACUM ministers. In less than five months, however, the Sandu government initiated key reforms in the judicial system, aimed at dismantling Plahotniuc’s networks of patronage but also impacting the Socialists, who to a large degree also profited from the previous status quo.

The red line came over a last-minute change in the selection process of the prosecutor general proposed by Sandu on 6 November, which the Socialists claimed was unconstitutional and gave them the justification to put forward a motion of no confidence in the Sandu government. This was conveniently supported by the Democratic Party, who appeared threatened by an independent prosecutor’s office and saw an opportunity to return to power.

Thus, the political will to reform proved insufficient in the absence of a clear strategy on how to address the concerns of the old regime that they would be prosecuted and their vested interests threatened. Here, ACUM’s lack of political experience let them down. With their hands tied from the beginning in a fragile coalition with the Socialists, ACUM were unable to prevent sabotage from within state institutions and their own coalition, and could not find consensus to proceed with more radical methods to tackle corruption.

Less than two days after the Sandu government was out, a new government was sworn in on 14 November. Prime Minister Ion Chicu was an adviser to President Dodon before taking office and former minister of finance under the Plahotniuc-backed government of Pavel Filip, as part of a cabinet of ministers consisting largely of other presidential advisers and former high-level bureaucrats and ministers from the Plahotniuc era.

The new government

A top priority for the Chicu government is to convince the international community that it is independent from President Dodon, and that its ‘technocrats’ will keep the course of reforms of the Sandu government. This is critical to preserving the financial assistance of Western partners, which the Moldovan government heavily relies on, particularly with a presidential election campaign next year, when they will likely want to create fiscal space for various giveaways to voters.

But within its first week in office, Chicu appears incapable of walking this line. Reverting to the initially proposed pre-selection process of prosecutor general signals that the post could be filled by a loyal appointee of President Dodon. Moreover, Chicu’s first visit abroad was to Russia, allegedly a major financial contributor of the Socialists’ Party. With the Socialists now holding the presidency, government, Chisinau mayoralty, and the parliament speaker’s seat, the danger of an increased Russian influence on key political decisions is very real.

A government steered by President Dodon risks bringing Moldova back to where it was before June, with a political elite mimicking reforms while misusing power for private gains. The biggest danger is that instead of continuing the reform process to bring Moldova back on its European integration path, the new government may focus on strengthening the old patronage system, this time with President Dodon at the top of the pyramid.

Lessons

This new minority government, supported by the Democrats, is a more natural one for President Dodon and therefore has more chances to survive, at least until presidential elections in autumn of 2020. Both the Socialists and the Democrats will likely seek to use this time to rebuild their own methods of capturing state resources. But with the Socialists relying on the Democrats’ votes in parliament, this is a recipe for further political instability.

Similar to Moldova, several other states across the post-Soviet space such as Ukraine and Armenia have had new political forces come to power with the political will and mandate to carry out difficult reforms to strengthen rule of law and fight systemic corruption in their countries. What they all have in common is the lack of political experience of how to create change, while old elites, used to thinking on their feet to defend their vested interests, retain their connections and economic and political influence.

Moldova is a good example of why political will needs to be backed up by clear strategy on how to deal with threatened vested interests in order for new political forces to be able to maintain themselves in power and reforms to be sustainable. When the chance comes again for fresh leaders to come to power, it is importantthey are politically prepared to use it swiftly and wisely.





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Europe and America have a Right To Know About #5G Safety


Google announced they are testing a new 5G smartphone, a move that aims to expand the company further into the branded hardware market – writes Theodora Scarato,  Executive Director of Environmental Health Trust.

 

September 10, Apple launched three new iPhones (iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro, and 11 Pro Max). Not to be shut out of the game, also last month, Samsung released their much anticipated Samsung Galaxy Fold, the first foldable smartphone. As the leading tech companies vie for first place in the 5G smartphone market, will they also issue clear warnings to the consumer public that their phones are not intended to be used in close body contact?

 

On August 22, 2019, the law firm of Fegan Scott filed a class action lawsuit against Apple and Samsung alleging that these two tech companies are misleading customers because their cellphones are marketed on the premise that the devices can always be used in close contact to the body (i.e. in the pocket). But phones in these very positions could result in the body absorbing high levels of cell phone radiation. So high, in fact, that the phones could violate the radiation safety limits set by the Federal Communications Commission.

 

The litigation was prompted by disturbing findings released in an August 21, 2019 Chicago Tribune investigation into cell phone radiation. The Tribune independently tested several popular cell phones and found that the phones emitted far more radiation than reported by the  manufacturers. Most importantly, radiation levels skyrocketed from 2 to 5 times the legal limit when phones were tested in positions close to the body, such as mimicking a phone in a pants pocket.

 

Many people incorrectly assume that cell phone radiation levels are safe, no matter how or where the phone is being used. But fine print warnings buried deep in the manufacturers’ manuals state that the phone is radiation tested a specific distance away from the body. For the iPhone 7 that distance is 5mm, but for the iPhone 3 it was 15mm.

 

In 2017, the government of France was pressured by Dr. Marc Arazi into finally releasing data from the hundreds of cell phones they tested since 2012. The  majority exceeded the legal limits when tested at body contact. In response, the European Union strengthened compliance tests so the distance can’t exceed 5mm and several smartphone models have now been withdrawn from the market or software updated. As many models with excessive radiation levels still remain on the market, Arazi of the Phonegate association has now filed legal action against Nokia and Xiaomi stating, “The manufacturers have deceived the users of more than 6 billion mobile phones.”

 

The radiation levels found in the smartphones tested by France could violate US  limits by 11 times according to published analysis. Fegan Scott characterized the situation as the “Chernobyl of the cell phone industry, cover-up and all.”  This October, the French Health Authority released a report recommending that phones be radiation tested at body contact- not at 5mm. In response to this report,  the French ministries of Health, Ecology and Economy issued a press release statement announcing their recommendation that phones be tested at body contact. They also called for the public to reduce cell phone radiation exposure. US National Institutes of Health scientist published their findings of DNA damage associated with cell phone radiation in their 30 Million dollar animal study.  This really should be the crack in the dam. Yet in the US, the FDA has been informed but taken no action.

 

What’s far more curious is that over the years, phone manufacturers have wordsmithed these fine print warnings such that consumers are adequate confused.

Why not directly state: “If you carry or use your phone in a pants or shirt pocket, or tucked into a bra, when the phone is on and connected to a wireless network, you may exceed the federal guidelines for exposure to RF radiation.”

 

In Berkeley, California, retailers are required to state this exact warning to cell phone consumers after the city passed their Cell Phone Right To Know Ordinance in 2015. It should be noted that after the Ordinance passed, the telecom industry group CTIA litigated all the way to the Supreme Court claiming the ordinance violated their free speech rights.

 

For two years after the Apple iPhone 6 debut in 2015, Apple shared the following statement regarding the model, “Carry iPhone at least 5mm away from your body to ensure exposure levels remain at or below the as-tested levels.” While this sentence was still on their website on March 2, 2017, it was removed by November 9, 2017. Similarly, the iPhone 7 was released in 2016, along with the same online instructions to carry it “5mm away from your body” which disappeared from the Apple website by November 9, 2017.

 

Apple’s website still includes information that cell phones are tested with a separation distance. However, the text is absent of clear instructions to consumers. Years ago, iPhone 3 filings to the FCC stated “iPhone’s SAR measurement may exceed the FCC exposure guidelines for body-worn operation if positioned less than 15 mm (5/8 inch) from the body (e.g. when carrying iPhone in your pocket).” They clearly stated, “When using iPhone near your body for voice calls or for wireless data transmission over a cellular network, keep iPhone at least 15 mm (5/8 inch) away from the body.” Were iPhone 3 consumers aware of these instructions then? Why not inform users now?

 

Fegan Scott claims that “research strongly suggests that cell phone manufacturers knew – or should have known – that the radiation levels were well above what they were claiming”.

 

Babies are handed cell phones to cuddle in shopping carts.  A child’s first cell phone is seen as a rite of passage and yet many don’t even know how to turn the phone off. They carry phones in their pockets- as do most men. Women carry phones directly against their body- tucked in their bras and spandex pants.

 

As with Dieselgate, the problem lies in the test itself.  A 2012 Government Accountability Report found human exposure limits and test protocols decades outdated. A  Harvard expose points to “undue industry influence” in US regulatory agencies and published analysis document conflicts of interest in the international “authorities” many countries rely on.  Phones are simply not radiation tested the way we use them- at body contact. It is time to hit the reset button. Before deploying 5G infrastructure and allowing 5G phones on the market, the US should first hold Congressional hearings on the oversight and safety of wireless devices.

 

 

Theodora Scarato is Executive Director of Environmental Health Trust.

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Tags: 5G, economy, featured, full-image, Google

Category: A Frontpage, Digital economy, Opinion





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