The PLUS government, less Voiculescu

GEORGE MARINESCU (TRANSLATED BY COSMIN GHIDOVEANU)
English Section / 15 aprilie

The PLUS government, less Voiculescu

Readers of the BURSA newspaper yesterday anticipated the decision made yesterday by prime-minister Florin Cîţu. 55% of 1488 respondents to our poll launched following last week's events of the Foişor hospital voted in favor of Vlad Voiculescu being let go as Healthcare minister, while 45% claimed that their term needs to continue.

The survey conducted by the BURSA newspaper had an interesting fluctuation in terms of those percentages. It seems that on Tuesday morning there was a mobilization from Vlad Voiculescu's supporters, which was reflected at one point in the partial results of the survey, when 65% of respondents said that he should remain Minister of Healthcare. Afterwards, during the day, until midnight - when the poll was closed -, however, the number of those requesting the dismissal of Vlad Voiculescu increased, so that the final result of the poll was unfavorable to the former Minister of Healthcare.

Thus, yesterday morning, before Prime Minister Florin Cîţu announced the dismissal of Vlad Voiculescu and Secretary of State Andreea Moldovan, the final result of the survey showed that 55% of respondents supported such a measure.

The Prime Minister removed Dan Voiculescu from office and arranged for Deputy Prime Minister Dan Barna to take over as interim Healthcare minister, decision which was approved by President Klaus Iohannis.

"The fight against the pandemic has stretched the state's resources, especially in the healthcare system (...). I've said that in order to be successful, we need trust in state institutions. In this context and to ensure that trust in those institutions remains, I decided to make a change at the top of the Ministry of Health. I assure all Romanians that I strongly believe in this governing coalition formed after their vote, around some values, some ideas, and not around some people", said Prime Minister Florin Cîţu, in a brief press release, explaining his decision.

Immediately after the dismissal of Vlad Voiculescu, almost all the leaders of the USR PLUS political alliance criticized the prime minister's action.

Dacian Cioloş, co-president of USRPLUS and head of the European Parliament's Renew Europe group, said: "The manner that Florin Cîţu acted in, by submitting to president Klaus Iohannis the request to dismiss Vlad Voiculescu, without consulting with the leadership of the USR Plus Alliance and the coalition, is absolutely unacceptable".

Ionuţ Moşteanu, the leader of the USRPLUS group of deputies, stated: "The prime minister's decision is not justified, especially since on Monday there was a discussion within the Coalition wherein everything seemed to have been clarified. This is an act of aggression by the prime minister".

Left without Voiculescu, USR PLUS wants to replace prime-minister Florin Cîţu

Regarding a possible breakup of the governing coalition, Mr. Moşteanu said: "Let's not discuss hypothetical situations, we are responsible statesmen. We have been and are loyal partners, because in a coalition government loyalty is necessary. We are and have been fair, we want to be treated fairly. We'll see what the arguments are. (...) Any option is on the table, there are colleagues who support this variant as well, there will be a calm, I am waiting for all the details. It is a surprise that Vlad Voiculescu was fired without a discussion in the coalition on that matter".

In response to the accusations brought against the prime minister by the governing coalition partners, PNL president Ludovic Orban said: "It is not only the right but also the constitutional obligation of the prime minister to ensure the proper functioning of the government and to intervene when necessary to ensure good governance, the implementation of the governance program and the serving of the public interest, even by replacing a minister. (...) A minister did not act in a coherent manner, with team spirit and in line with the commitments undertaken. (...) Following the course of events and public statements over the last month, it can be seen that the point was reached where it was absolutely necessary for the prime minister to make the decision he made".

Ludovic Orban clearly expressed the fact that Florin Cîţu has the Liberals' support to stay on as PM, that it was the right of USR PLUS to nominate another person for the position of Healthcare Minister and that the only political option of PNL was the current coalition together with the partners from the UDMR, USR PLUS and the group of national minorities.

"There is no reason for Florin Cîţu to be replaced. The prime-minister of the PNL is Florin Cîţu and the PNL supports him. It is natural that there is a certain upset, after today's decision, among the coalition partners, but the right of USR PLUS to appoint the Minister of Health is not disputed by anyone. (...) Romania needs to be governed, it needs a government that acts in the interest of the citizens, that implements the governing program and I am convinced that all our coalition colleagues understand this", Ludovic Orban said.

Unfortunately for the PNL president, the USR PLUS leaders did not reach the same conclusion following the meeting of the Permanent Bureau of the political alliance. They decided to withdraw their political support for Prime-Minister Florin Cîţu and to call for negotiations within the coalition on how things will proceed from now on.

Deputy Prime Minister Dan Barna, co-president of USR PLUS, said that the decision to dismiss Vlad Voiculescu is "a unilateral, immature decision" by the prime minister and "raises big questions about Florin Cîţu's ability to lead the ruling coalition".

"Florin Cîţu's decision throws the governing coalition into a major crisis, as a result of which Florin Cîţu no longer has the support of the USR-PLUS Alliance. It is the prime-minister's right to assess the performance of ministers. This morning's dismissal is not based on any assessment. No evaluation of Minister Vlad Voiculescu has been performed", said Dan Barna, who showed that USR PLUS will find a solution to ensure the interim position of Minister of Health.

Barna also said that Vlad Voiculescu was held responsible for things that were not within his job description.

"The vaccination campaign is directly coordinated by the Prime Minister of Romania and the fact that we are ranked last, 26 out of 27, in Europe, shows neither performance nor strategic wisdom. I agree with the prime-minister: Romania does not hang on one person", said the co-president of USR PLUS, alluding to the need to have Florin Cîţu replaced.

The leaders of USR PLUS also requested an emergency meeting of the governing coalition that would establish, from their point of view, the withdrawal of political support for Prime Minister Florin Cîţu, the future coordinates of the collaboration between the respective political parties and the acceleration of the reforms undertaken through the governing program.

What neither Dan Barna nor Dacian Cioloş are taking into account is that a fall of the Cîţu government would be strikingly similar to the way in which the PSD led by Liviu Dragnea changed the Grindeanu and Tudose governments.

Alexandru Rafila: "Vlad Voiculescu, totally incapable to answer the population's needs in handling the pandemic"

Speaking about the Voiculescu's dismissal, Claudiu Năsui - minister of the Economy, Entrepreneurship and Tourism - has also claimed that it was the result of mob-like factions in the public healthcare system.

"Today the mob in the public healthcare system has won again. (...) These parasites live off your money. These hydra-leech hybrids, whom we all know. We have become accustomed to calling them generically «the mob». And here we have it, the healthcare mob won again. (...) this system (...) will climb over dead people to stay connected to the money collected from taxes of every working person in Romania", says Claudiu Năsui.

Regarding Voiculescu's dismissal, Claudiu Năsui - the Minister of Economy, Entrepreneurship and Tourism - claimed that it is the result of mafia interest groups in health.

"Today, the mafia in the state health system has won again. (...) These parasites live off the money you earn. These hybrids between the hydra and the tick, who we all know. We used to call them generically "mafia." Here that the health mafia has won even today. (...) this system (...) climbs on corpses to remain plugged in the money from the taxes paid by every man who works in Romania", says Claudiu Năsui.

The only mentally balanced partners in the government seem to be those from UDMR, who through President Kelemen Hunor stated that "the dismissal of a minister is the exclusive constitutional prerogative of the prime minister; that decision is not up for discussion, it needs to be implemented".

"The UDMR accepts this decision and we support the coalition, because together we have taken on the responsibility for leading the country. We have some big desideratums, important for the country, a new minister must be appointed as soon as possible, and we are proceeding to the coalition agreement", said Kelemen Hunor, deputy prime-minister within the Cîţu government.

Among those who said they were satisfied with Vlad Voiculescu's dismissal were PSD MPs. The deputy Alexandru Rafila, Romania's representative with the World Health Organization stated: "We think that the prime minister's decision was perfectly justified. We have been consistent from a political point of view, as well as technically, because we requested this, because Vlad Voiculescu's role, as Healthcare Minister, was to respond to the needs of the population in managing the pandemic. He proved totally incapable of doing so. (...) The facts surpassed anything that could have been imagined and we ended up in the situation where the Healthcare Ministry of Health operating on its own, distinctly from the Romanian government. The dismissal of Vlad Voiculescu is a responsible action from the prime-minister, but it comes late. What has happened in recent weeks has led to a loss of control of the pandemic. (...) The Health portfolio must be taken over by a person with experience in administration, who knows the healthcare system and who can bring to the same table people who may not be politically agreeable, but are professionally competent. (...) There is a line that Vlad Voiculescu has long crossed".

He said he did not believe that USR PLUS would leave the government, because the political alliance is burdened by very large economic interests, interests that are also tied to the Healthcare Ministry.

"The way they're clinging to their positions shows me that their desire is not to leave the government, quite the opposite", said Alexandru Rafila.

Later, PSD mentioned in a press release that if the members of the governing coalition are not able to solve their internal problems, the Social Democrats are ready for early elections.

The order regarding the quarantine criteria, cost Vlad Voiculescu his job

It would seem that the straw that broke the camel's back and which led to Voiculescu's sacking was his ministerial order concerning the new criteria for the quarantining of localities during the state of alert, order which was drawn up and signed by state secretary Andreea Moldovan (t whom the minister delegated some of his responsibilities), without it being discussed with prime-minister Florin Cîţu or with state secretary Raed Arafat, who is in charge of the National Emergency Situations Committee. According to that act, published in the Official Gazette, a locality's quarantine would only be lifted once the number of cases dropped below 3 people per thousand, which means a tightening of the current measures taken by the government last week when it extended the state of alert by another 30 days. Especially since prime-minister Florin Cîţu and state secretary Raed Arafat had announced the easing of certain restrictions for the Easter period in the beginning of May.

"The prime-minister was informed, the discussion on the quarantine criteria had taken place a month ago. The order contains recommendations for the local authorities, it sets several criteria and brings balance when it comes to the quarantine decisions between localities", the leader of the deputies of USRPLUS.

Regarding that order, deputy Ionuţ Moşteanu said that he did not believe that it justified the dismissal of Vlad Voiculescu.

"The prime minister was informed, the discussion about quarantine criteria was a month. The order contains recommendations for local authorities, but establishes several criteria and brings balance on quarantine decisions between localities", said the leader of the USRPLUS group of deputies.

Ludovic Orban, the PNL president, is not of the same opinion, saying: "You cannot issue an order regarding the restrictions, the quarantine of localities, without consulting the prime minister, the National Institute of Public Health and other institutions in the field. No one is going to convince me that the order signed by the Secretary of State was published in the Official Gazette without the knowledge of the Minister".

Three months of turmoil in healthcare

Vlad Voiculescu's term was a controversial one, considering the high expectations that Romanians had from the former Healthcare Minister and the palpable results of the last three months. Everyone knows that, after 30 years, where investments in the public healthcare system have been deficient throughout the country, the new minister could not have done much in three months in office. But we believe that certain situations could have been avoided. And here we are referring to the tragedy at Matei Balş, a fire in which six patients initially lost their lives, the transfer in the middle of the night of the patients from the Foişor Hospital, in order to convert it into a Covid hospital, the tragedy from the Victor Babeş hospital, which resulted in three people dying.

The three situations could have been handled differently, had former Healthcare Minister, Vlad Voiculescu, after his appointment at the end of last year, carefully monitored the implementation of the measures ordered in the reports prepared by the General Inspectorate for Emergency Situations, following the audit of the hospitals after the tragedy of November 15, 2020 at the ICU of the Neamţ County Emergency Clinical Hospital, when 12 Covid-19 patients died.

Instead of dealing with the lousy state hospitals are in, Vlad Voiculescu engaged in all sorts of disputes regarding the vaccination campaign, regarding the special vaccination centers in the healthcare locations of the Ministry of National Defense and the Ministry of Interior, regarding the reporting of the number of cases, of its calculation method. During that time, more than 100 patients continued to die daily in Covid hospitals, some due to poor technical and medical conditions in the healthcare facilities. Moreover, Vlad Voiculescu also proved a lack of empathy with patients in the public health system, as was the case with the transfer of patients from the Foişor Hospital, who he said were happy.

To that situation, we should add the fact that the Ministry of Health led by Vlad Voiculescu failed to pay for three months the allowances for the medical staff from the anti-Covid-19 vaccination centers. The first payments were only made after mid-March.

Some of these things were notified in February in the simple motion of no-confidence submitted by PSD parliamentarians against the Healthcare Minister, a motion that was rejected by the Chamber of Deputies with 161 votes in favor of Vlad Voiculescu, 140 votes against and one abstention, on February 17, 2021. Therefore, in the beginning of this week, PSD submitted a new simple motion against the former Healthcare Minister, a motion that was withdrawn yesterday by the signatory deputies, following Vlad Voiculescu's dismissal.

The only notable thing left after Vlad Voiculescu's short term is that, for the first time in 30 years, the positions of presidents of the 41 county healthcare insurance houses will be filled via exams, instead of via political nominations. At least that is how it is supposed to be based on the terms and methodology approved by the former minister.

Also during Vlad Voiculescu's term, together with the Ministry of European Investments and Projects, 50 million euros in grants were successfully allocated as part of the Large Infrastructure 2014-2020 Operational Program for phase I and II public hospitals and COVID support from the Romanian public healthcare system, for the installation of detection systems, fire warnings with full coverage and signal detection and maximum allowable oxygen concentration warnings, to increase safety. That money would also be used for the rehabilitation of the electrical, ventilation and air treatment infrastructures, as well as for extension, rehabilitation and modernization of the medical fluid infrastructures.

Regarding Vlad Voiculescu's replacement, several names were discussed circulated yesterday. Among them are those of Senator Adrian Wiener, former director of the Arad County Hospital, and deputy Emanuel Ungureanu, who, on the occasion of the simple motion of no-confidence in February warned him that if he wanted to succeed at the helm of the Healthcare Ministry, he would have to fire more civil servants with executive positions. However, it seems that Adrian Wiener has the most support for the position of Healthcare Minister. It remains to be seen, however, whether, following negotiations between the ruling coalition leaders, the position of Healthcare Minister will remain with USR PLUS.

Florin Cîţu - interim healthcare minister

Prime Minister Florin Cîţu will serve as interim head of the Healthcare Ministry, until USR PLUS nominates another person for the position.

Yesterday, President Klaus Iohannis signed the decree appointing the prime-minister as interim minister of health, after Deputy Prime Minister Dan Barna, co-chair of USR PLUS, refused to take over the position.

"Given the refusal of Mr. Dan Barna to taken on this responsibility, I submitted a new nomination to the president, namely myself. I had a meeting with part of the leadership of the Ministry of Health, and tomorrow I will have two online conferences, with all the directors of DSP and all the directors of Covid hospitals. Providing the 1600 beds for the Intensive Care Units remains a priority, as does the vaccination campaign. Tomorrow we will have a government meeting, where some of the acts to be approved will come from the Healthcare Ministry and they are normative acts that do not support postponement", Prime-Minister Florin Cîţu said, after taking over the interim.

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