A kind of a modern Pulcinella, but extremely classical in action, Liviu Mocanu runs the company in charge of waste collection. The firm is 7% controlled by Buzau’s local council. At the same time, he is an elected representative in the county council on behalf of the Liberal Democrat Party and also the president of the county committee on public services, a stance which gives him credit in monitoring the waste collection market in Buzau and greenlighting operations of the company he heads. This position is also a pinnacle of influence, as he can persuade other colleagues to vote for or against projects on waste collection that reach the county council.
According to the National Integrity Agency, a body in charge of setting the frame when it comes to incompatibilities among the elected, conflicts of interests are regulated through the public administration law of 2001 which says that “a local or county representative who has an interest in the decisions made by the council, or whose relatives bear such an interest, cannot take part in any voting procedures”.
Liviu Mocanu does not seem too affected by this law. He has pulled all the strings he could to block the approval of a waste management master plan in the county, up to the point where Buzau risked losing 54 million euros, non redeemable funds from the Sectoral Operational Program Environment. After putting constant pressure on colleagues from the county council, succeeding in persuading them to vote against the master plan six times, Mocanu was forced to give in, after the minister of Environment himself made a visit to the county to urge that the plan be voted. What Mocanu did, besides convincing colleagues to reject the master plan, was to protect the business interests of the company he runs and which is the only waste collector in the city. A monopoly that could easily become history if the master plan gets implemented, as it forces local authorities to organize an auction in order to select the waste collector.
Slashed and voted
The waste management master plan was finally approved only after the intervention of the Environment minister. But not in its initial form: it suffered significant changes. For example the requirement to construct an ecological deposit was erased and the number of sorting centers was reduced. Mocanu argued against erecting another deposit, underlining that the current one – managed by RER Servicii Ecologice, another company controlled by the RER group – can swallow all the garbage from the city of Buzau and the whole county.
The ecological deposit is located in Galbinasi village, some 10 kilometers away from the city, and has the estimated capacity to receive waste until 2023. In other words, what Liviu Mocanu did was to make sure that the county’s waste gets dumped in the deposit managed by a sister company of RER, which taxes the ton of garbage for 46 lei, money which, in the end, adds up in RER’s wallet. Nonchalant, Mocanu admitted his stance in the county council meetings against building a new deposit (a possible competitor of the current one). In the end, the document that was passed greenlights the construction of four transfer and sorting units and two composting ones.
12-year contract extension as a prize
The tectonic moves caused in Buzau by RER’s business interests with the ruling Liberal Democrats’ complicity have another big stake. The waste collection contract signed with the municipality expires in 2012. That might explain why Mocanu was nothing but relentless in providing some continuity to the general financial frame which makes it possible that the public money is allotted to RER. He had no shame in asking local council members to approve a 12-year contract prolongation, arguing that the company will dole out some 7 million euros to construct a sorting unit, an investment that will pay off in 12 years.
Local council sources told us that the body has drafted a decision in this respect that will be voted by the end of the year. What is more, a team made up of local advisors and RER staff visited a sorting unit recently constructed by another RER company – Retim Timisoara – in the western city of Timisoara. Using the same pattern described above, Retim solicited a by default contract prolongation and local authorities in Timisoara approved of one until 2039.
The business models RER fancies are to co-finance its investments with money granted by the ministerial Environment Fund. The second cell at the Galbinasi ecological deposit was built with a 40% nonredeemable help from this fund, money which was cashed by the constructor, in this case Conprif, a local company controlled by the controversial businessman Constantin Ghiveci who is close friends with the local Liberal Democrat leader, Cezar Preda. Similarly, an investment to carry out a sorting unit will ask for financial support, in a paradox-like scheme, where the waste collector assumes little responsibility, but requires full benefits.
Selective collection hampered by Gypsies
Using the waste tariff it collects from Buzau residents (which was recently increased through a local council decision, after the company argued that inflation and fuel price rises are unbearable), RER spent 30,000 euros to buy 30 selective collection containers which it installed with the help of Intersemat, a company controlled by Jeanina Preda, Cezar Preda’s wife. Intersemat is a collective association, which is set up under Romanian legislation to carry out selective collection targets in the name of some packaging producers.
On paper the plastic, aluminum cans, paper and glass collected through these newly-installed containers are recovered by RER and reported by Intersemat in the name of producers which have invested in the latter. “People don’t throw garbage selectively as they should”, Mocanu says, stressing that the containers are there for nothing, as doing a proper kind of selective collection in Buzau is impossible “because of Gypsies that steal from the containers and destroy them”.
However, the company collects some waste that has previously been separated, as the system proves efficient in a few residential areas of the city. Thus, RER monthly takes out of containers some 11 tons of paper and cardboard and a few tons of plastic bottles which all go to recycling. Besides this, all the other official figures on selective collection are adjustable on paper, as Mocanu himself admits. Consequently, the lack of an efficient selective collection system is one of the reasons why the waste ends up dumped in landfills, which makes it impossible for the Buzau municipality to reach another important target: that of reducing by 15% the total volume of waste landfilled. The effect is pecuniary, as the local authorities have to pay 100 lei to the Environment Fund for each ton deposited over the target. So far, the Buzau municipality has to dole out about 200.000 lei, according to the head of the local Environment Police, Carmen Ichim.
Such taxes imposed for each ton over the target fixed by law (the same local authorities who have leased the waste collection services) turn into money that is fueled into environment investments, RER being one of the companies which has significantly accessed such funds. The company’s new sorting unit will most likely be erected inside the same pattern, in which public money paid by municipality for the failed depositing target is recovered by the collector company from the Environment Fund and used as investment kick off. This being the scenario, RER feels entitled to ask that its contract with the municipality be prolonged. This way, Cezar Preda – the once official director of the business and a current deputy in the Romanian Parliament – could update his public CV.
Posted on the Parliament’s website, the document now reads, under a chapter named “Research-innovation-development grant or contract-based programs”, that Preda has assumed the construction of the ecological deposit in Galbinasi and that of the transfer and sorting unit in Ramnicu-Sarat, nearby Buzau, plus “promoting selective collection by distributing in schools and kindergartens coloring books”, an activity which cost about 45,000 euros, money taken from the Environment Fund.
- This article was developed with the support of the Soros Foundation in Romania, as part of the program Investigative Journalism. The content of this article does not represent the foundation’s official stance.