The Direcţia Naţională Anticorupţie (DNA) was established in order for Romania to lower its levels of political and high-level corruption, for the EU to be sure that as a newer member state, its policy-making and legislative bodies can be trusted – especially considering its role as a vanguard nation ‘gatekeeper’ to non-EU Europe. Romania pursued the establishment of this body in earnest, which had some initial successes, but which has since struggled to maintain its position of strengths. In order to decide whether it can still be considered a ‘Good Practice’ it is important to understand in what context the DNA exists, what successes it still maintains, and what challenges lie ahead.
In post-communist Europe, corruption was perceived as an inherent part of the old regime. A 2013 Eurobarometer on corruption revealed that 93% of Romanians believed that corruption is widespread, an endemic issue in the country. The shaky period of transition from a communist state towards a democratic system gave rise to numerous concerns regarding the setbacks corruption was posing towards a working democracy.
The Romanian Anti-Corruption Directorate (DNA) is among the most prominent Romanian institutions in the post-communist period. Established as a specialized prosecution office, its main role is to investigate high level corruption. However, its existence and its ways of conduct created a fierce debate within the Romanian society and the European political sphere. Highly praised by a part of society and its international supporters and vilified by others, DNA was constantly in the limelight in the recent period. On the one hand it was extremely appreciated by the European partners of Romania, while on the other it was constantly contested by a variety of internal politicians, being accused of becoming a political tool in the hands of a privileged elite. Its investigations began being referred to as a weapon to defeat political adversaries. As its legitimacy is a highly disputed topic in Romania, a question needs to be posed: Can the DNA be perceived as an example of good practice in fighting corruption?
DNA is seen as an efficient institution, positively cited by the European Commission as an example of good practice. In 2017, according to the yearly report of DNA, 3800 cases were solved, 159.5 million euros were confiscated and 713 people were sentenced. The report mentioned that it has been by far the busiest year since the directorate’s formation. The above-mentioned figures make the institution the most coherent in the country in tackling corruption. DNA constantly improved its practices, coming from being seen as a weak mechanism to what it is today. From 2002 to 2005, in comparison to what it is now, the DNA was perceived as an impotent creation, with almost 90% of the investigated cases not solved. Whereas in 2015, among other public officials, 10 former ministers were sentenced due to corruption charges, the cases being investigated by the DNA. The figures suggest a steady improvement of the Directorate practices. Yet, it has a long way to go for a more efficient functioning.
Even if the institution still has some drawbacks in investigating corruption cases, the overview of the social environment in which it functions needs to be taken into account. The DNA is not infallible, and is not functioning in a vacuum, but rather dependent on coherent legislation and the support of the political arena. As legislation regarding corruption was planned to be softened by the actual government, the DNA lacked the backing of the legislative and executive chambers. Moreover, the Directorate was constantly obstructed by some political groups. For instance, in 2005, the Constitutional Court of Romania took a decision that the institution be stripped of its ability to investigate MPs, due to a referral made by a group of members of the parliament.
In conclusion, even if the National Anti-Corruption Directorate has certain incoherent functioning elements, it is still a vital institution for a stable democracy in Romania. As no other institution manage the corruption cases in a more efficient manner, it can still be seen as an example of good practice. Yet, it needs to be emphasized again: an efficient DNA cannot be built without serious support from the political environment. As long as the government does not make a priority for a better tackle of corruption, DNA has its hands tied. Moreover, a better charge against corruption would involve other institutions as well. For instance, a serious problem raised by DNA’s chief prosecutor was the difficulty to confiscate the assets obtained through corruption. According to the prosecutor, the Romanian state has to get a prejudice of around a billion euro before charges are brought. Even if the DNA would achieve astonishing efficiency, without the constant improvement of other institutions, the fight against corruption would severely suffer.
Alexandru Melinte, PATRIR