In a rare whistleblower case that has gone public in Romania, a long-time staffer with a national water agency has been fired for exposing rampant political favoritism in hiring.
Among the alleged nepotistic appointments orchestrated by the ruling National Liberal Party, a former waitress reportedly was hired to work as a water management engineer in the flood-prone Prut-Bârlad river basin. Preschool teachers and lottery workers with no relevant experience also were hired improperly by the water agency, according to media reports.
The case first hit the news earlier this year and is receiving growing public attention as lawmakers in Romania have begun developing a new whistleblower protection law. Romania passed continental Europe’s first whistleblower law in 2004, but it has remained largely dormant mainly due to historical and cultural suspicions of people who expose inside information.
Gabriel Musteață, a technical director at Apele Române (“Water Romania”) in the city of Bârlad, was dismissed after revealing he was forced to hire a woman in the flood-control department who had no experience in the field. Musteață went public with the story in February in an interview with the Romanian media outlet Digi FM. He revealed more details in a video interview with Europa FM.
“These are very important institutions. Why would the state want weakened, vulnerable institutions?” Musteață told Digi FM. An employee at Apele Române for 25 years, Musteață has gone to court in hopes of getting his job back. He was not spared from dismissal by Romania’s whistleblower law, and to date he has not been reinstated and compensated for lost wages and other damages.
Musteață told Digi FM that another person affiliated with the National Liberal Party was hired to collect data on dam safety who had no relevant experience. “I told the director: if a person doesn’t know what the water level is and what a dam is, how can he figure out what a piece of equipment is on a dam or a spillway? Without a doubt this would have led to a tidal wave, a crisis situation.”
The Recorder newspaper reported that Apele Române – which falls within Romania’s Ministry of Environment, Waters and Forests – has been turned into a “party fiefdom where hirings are made without any criteria of competence.” Recorder reported that in most of Romania’s counties, the National Liberal Party of Prime Minister Florin Cîțu has hired people with no relevant training and “based only on their party cards.”
“Political appointments at the top of these institutions are only part of this outrageous phenomenon,” Recorder reported. “In fact, politically affiliated directors are not content with their own positions. Once in office, they populate the subordinate organization charts with party cronies in key positions. Meanwhile, experienced engineers are pushed aside.”
Recorder reported that a director in Prut-Bârlad who is a National Liberal Party official calls himself “a political animal” who hires party members who do not know how to measure the flow of a river. An agency engineer told Recorder that “the politicization of Apele Române will be paid for with human lives.”
Cîțu reportedly has ordered an investigation