In August 2012, the European Commission blocked for Romania the EU-funded Human Resources Development Program (POSDRU) over fraud concerns regarding funds used between 2009 and 2011. In February 2013, the program was unlocked, but it seems that old habits die hard, especially when it comes to spending money. The following is one example in this regard.
In early 2014, I have return in Romania from Finland, with a recent PhD diploma in Social Sciences and with the though of applying for a postdoctoral scholarship in my home country. After considerable struggle to have my diploma recognized in Romania, I was finally able to submit my application file. I was aiming for one of 40 postdoctoral scholarships offered through a multidisciplinary POSDRU project, each scholarship being of 3,700 lei (about 800 euro) per month for over one year. Sadly, however, I discovered that the competition organized for the selection of the 40 postdoctoral researchers was just a façade. I discovered that the list with the 40 persons that were accepted in the programme was actually known long before the opening of the competition. Together with thirty seven other researchers, in late May 2014, I filed complains to several Romanian authorities, but nobody seems interested to undertake a fair investigation and to see if our suspicions are justified. The following is a very short description of what we know.
In April-May 2014, the Romanian Institute for the Study of the Quality of Life (ICCV), affiliated with the Romanian Academy, organized a competition to select 40 postdoctoral researchers for the POSDRU Project called „PLURI- ȘI INTERDISCIPLINARITATE ÎN PROGRAME DOCTORALE ȘI POST-DOCTORALE”, ID-141086, Code of Project: POSDRU/159/1.5/S/141086. The project is financed with over 8 million lei (about 2 million euro).
There were several major problems with the way that this competition was organized, and 38 postdoctoral researchers (as a group) filed (on 28 May 2014) a complaint to the director of the ICCV (Cătălin Zamfir), to the president of the Romanian Academy (Ionel Valentin Vlad), to the Romanian Management Authority for POSDRU and to the Romanian Minister for EU Funds (Eugen Orlando Teodorovici). The same complaint was afterwards signed (through an online form) by other 293 persons.
Individually, other researchers filed several complaints to these and to other Romanian authorities. Unfortunately, nobody in Romania seems interested to investigate into this case of possible nepotism, fraud, corruption and misadministration of UE money. From the ICCV and from the Romanian Academy we got responses that our complaint is not justified. From the other authorities we have received no response.
Some of the problems we signalled:
- The methodology of the competition was vague and discriminatory. It was also changed several times during the competition.
- The evaluation of the candidates was not made in accordance with the announced methodology. To give one single example, every candidate had to receive a final grade which was the arithmetic mean of 10 other grades given by the 10 members of the evaluation commission; every of the 10 grades had to be divided in three other grades according to three distinct evaluation criteria. Nothing like that happened and there are no evaluation sheets proving otherwise. We asked, unsuccessfully, to be showed our evaluation sheets.
- The evaluation commission did not even read the documentation from the files that the candidates submitted. This was clear, for instance, from the questions that the members of the commission asked during the so-called interview.
- Employees of the ICCV that were actively involved in organizing and running the contest were also candidates in the same contest. They had access for instance to the files of the other candidates.
- The conditions of eligibility were modified during the contest. Moreover, from 323 candidates, 111 were considered ineligible. 34 of them contested this decision and 25 were then considered eligible. This number, 25 of 34, is one other proof that the whole selection process was biased.
- Who were the members of the evaluation commission was and still is a big secret. On 23 May, late in the evening, the results of the contest were published on the ICCV’s website. In the morning of the same day, for few hours only, a list with the members of the evaluation commission was published on the website of the ICCV. All the members of the commission were coming from the institutions that were partners in the project. We downloaded that list and it was like this: Cătălin Zamfir (ICCV), his wife, Elena Zamfir (ICCV), Ioan Mărginean (ICCV); Sorin Cace (ICCV); Gheorghe Zaman (The National Institute of Economics, IEN); Florin Marius Pavelescu (IEN); Viorel Cojocaru (University of Sport, UNEFS); Vasilica Grigore (UNEFS); Ilie Bădescu (Institute of Sociology, IS), Dan Banciu (IS), Gheorghe Toma (The National Academy of Intelligence, ANI); Vasile Dancu (ANI).
- People that were not members in the evaluation commission entered the interview room and addressed the candidates with questions.
- The members of the evaluation commission were in conflict of interests. From the 237 eligible candidates were “selected” 40 persons, but there is poof that all these 40 people are in some sort of personal or institutional relation with the members of the evaluation commission. Hence, the conflict of interests. Moreover, there are rumours (employees of the partner institutions say so) that prior to the contest, there was an informal agreement between the directors of the institutions that were partners in the project, and that they split the available 40 places among themselves. Thus, three weeks before the contest (employees of the partner institutions say so), the list with the people that were to be accepted was already made. Still, the ICCV organized the contest and hundreds of people (323 to be exact) from all over Romania came to Bucharest to submit the application file and then to participate in the so-called interview, because they did not know at the time that the contest had been “arranged”.
Cătălin Zamfir, the director of the ICCV, publicly admitted that they accepted in the project only former students, current employees of the institutions that are partners in the project, and people they knew directly, but he argued that there was nothing wrong with that. But, if they were convinced that it was legal and moral to admit into the program only their employees and acquaintances, why did they considered necessary to organize this charade, bringing hundreds of people from Romania to participate in a contest of which results were already known?
However, other institutions from Romania, operating the same type of POSDRU projects, considered necessary to separate the available places on disciplines and research fields, and, more importantly, they considered necessary to organize two separate competitions, one for the people affiliated with the institutions that were partners in the projects and one for outsiders.
I will present you now with some proof that this whole so-called contest was about nepotism and probably corruption. However, although I am not a specialist in the field, it seems to me that above all it was about conflict of interests. According to Recommendation No R (2000) 10 of the Committee of Ministers to Member states on codes of conduct for public officials, “conflict of interests arises from a situation in which the public official has a private interest which is such as to influence, or appear to influence, the impartial or objective performance of his or her official duties. The public official’s private interest includes any advantage to himself or herself, to his or her family, close relatives, friends and persons or organizations with whom he or she has or had had business or political relations. It includes also any liability, whether financial or civil relating thereto.” Bellow is a list with the people that got admitted and with the relation between them and the members of the evaluation commission:
|No||Name of the person accepted in the program||Affiliation||Observations|
|1||Anghel Mirela(Boteanu)||Bucharest University, Faculty of Sociology||Ioan Mărginean and Ilie Bădescu, members in the Evaluation Commission (EV) work at the same faculty, where they are Mirela’s superiors. They are also friends and colleagues with Mirela’s husband, Petre Anghel, who is professor at the same faculty.|
Oltean (Munteanu) Anca
|University Petru Maior, Faculty of Economic Sciences||Institute of Economics, partner in the projectThey were given the places that had been allocated to the Institute of Economics, partner in the project. All four are (former or current) employees or collaborators of the same Institute. Between 2010 and 2012, Ştefan Daniel, husband of Ştefan Anamari-Beatrice and Rector of the University Petru Maior, also received a postdoctoral scholarship through the same Institute.|
|6||Cozma Sorin||The Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI)||Initially, he was considered ineligible on grounds that “SRI was not an institution of high education or research”. He contested this decision, was declared eligible, and then admitted.He probably got one of the scholarships that had been allocated to ANI, partner in the project.|
|7||Fitzek Sebastian||The National School for Political and Administrative Studies, SNSPA||Elena Zamfir, member of the EV, supervised his PhD thesis (which was defended in October 2010 at the West University, in Timisoara, Romania). Fitzek Sebastian and Elena Zamfir published several articles since as co-authors.|
|8||Mihaiu Simona Ionela||University of Craiova, Faculty of Sociology.||Dan Banciu, member in the EV, supervised her PhD thesis, which was defended in 2013 at the Faculty of Sociology, Bucharest University.|
|9||Onica-Chipea Lavinia||University of Oradea||Floare Chipea, professor at the University of Oradea, is Lavinia’s mother. Cătălin and Elena Zamfir were also professors at the University of Oradea. Cătălin Zamfir is also the godfather of the Chipea family.|
|10||Scutaru Teodor Codrin||University Dimitrie Cantemir,Secretary of State at the Ministry of Work||Cătălin Zamfir, member in the EV, was the supervisor of his PhD thesis which was defended in December 2010 at the West University in Timisoara. Moreover, Scutaru is a Secretary of State at the Ministry of Work; this ministry supervises the Management Authority for POSDRU, this Management Authority is the one that financed the POSDRU Project that is run by the ICCV.|
|11||Vasiluţă ŞtefănescuMarius||University of West Timişoara||Vasiluţă Ştefănescu Marius worked in several projects with Cătălin and Elena Zamfir, members in the EV. Elena Zamfir was one of his professors at the University of West in Timişoara.|
|12||Vasiliu Alina Ioana(Bargaoanu)||University Andrei Şaguna, Constanta||????????|
Mihalache Florentin Flavius
Pop Cosmina Elena
Popescu Raluca Andreea
Serban Monica Carmen
Stănescu Simona Maria
|ICCV –beneficiary of the project|
|Bălan Valeria Cristina
Panait Marius Ciprian
Urzeală N. Constanţa Nicoleta
|University of Sport – partner in the project|
|Dumitraşcu Veronica Sorina
Popa Florin Emilian
|Institute of Sociology – partner in the project|
Negrescu Mihaela Georgiana
|National Academy of Intelligence – partner in the project|
We simply ask a fair investigation into the way that this competition was organized. We consider that in the future such selections should be made by independent commissions. We also observe that no outsider was accepted in the program, and that all the persons that got accepted are former students, friends, students of friends, relatives, collaborators, subordinates of the members of the evaluation commission.
The Romanian media wrote about this “scandal”, as it was called. Ziare.com, Romania liberă, Ziua News, Contributors, Realitatea.net and many others on different blogs reported about this case. An official reaction, however, is still non-existent, although cases like this have the potential to determine, once again, the blocking of the EU-funded Human Resources Development Program (POSDRU) for Romania.
Update, 26 April 2016:
The Management Authority for POSDRU (AMPOSDRU), of the Romanian Ministry of Education and Scientific Research, responded in November 2015, 18 months after our first complaint. In a 156 pages long report (in Romanian, .pdf), AMPOSDRU admitted that all our complaints were justified. It observed discrimination, conflict of interests, that the evaluation process was not in accordance with the standards of the scientific quality of the submitted projects or with the ethic standards.
These and many other problems, determined AMPOSDRU to decide that (in Romanian, .pdf) ,,the procedure of evaluation and selection is not viable, as it was not carried in conditions of transparency, it did not comply with the principles of fair competition, equal treatment and nondiscrimination of candidates, it did not take the measures necessary to prevent conflict of interests, and therefore, it did not support the best project proposals.”
However, by the time this report was made, the POSDRU project in question had been carried and completed, with the spending of 8 million lei (about 2 million Euros), from the state budget. By November 2015, ICCV and its partners had been reimbursed with over 1.5 million lei (through the POSDRU program) and they were expecting the reimbursement of the other over 6 million lei. However, once AMPOSDRU observed the ,,irregularities” that affected this project, the reimbursement was stopped and ICCV and its partners were requested to repay the 1.5 million that had already been reimbursed to them.
To my knowledge, this is the only measure that has been taken in this case, and, despite my (and others’) repeated complaints and requests no administrative or legal investigation was carried and no measure was taken.
I was officially told that no further investigation or measure was necessary (in Romanian, .pdf) since the reimbursement was stopped and the already reimbursed funds will be recuperated from the beneficiary of the project. Thus, according to the Romanian scientific and juridical authorities, it does not matter what happened. They did not want to know how something like that was possible and what one can do to prevent it from happening again. It does not matter either if one has to pay for his/her mistakes, administratively or otherwise.