Public money

Money “secretly” chopped on dead voting system in Parliament

Deputaţii au oferit vot de încredere Guvernului ridicând mâinile. Foto: Serviciul de Presă al Parlamentului

The electronic voting system, installed in the renovated building of the Parliament one year ago, remains an object of decorum during the plenary meetings of the new legislators as well. They do not care that the equipment, on which public funds had been spent and that is meant to make their work more transparent and easier, is dysfunctional. The deputies accuse each other and say they have no idea how much the system cost. At the same time, the authorities responsible for the installation and good operation of the equipment as well as the chiefs of the company that executed the work refuse to give any information about the costs, invoking the ‘state secret.’

One year ago, the deputies moved to the renovated premises of the Parliament when an advanced electronic voting and recording system had been installed for the meetings. After nearly one hour trying to learn how to use the new equipment, the elected officials renounced it and continued to vote by hand. The deputies then accused themselves of sabotaging the system, on the one hand, and that the equipment allegedly was used for defrauding the voting, on the other hand.

Deputies pretend not to know

Since February 2014, few legislators wondered, at least publicly, why the new equipment has not been used. “Do you think I am dealing with the technical matters of the Parliament? Think whom you ask such questions before you do!” the socialist Zinaida Greceanîi reproached. “I think someone has an interest in this if the system has not been working. This system is important and necessary because it assures more transparency in counting the votes,” the communist Maria Postoico commented.

The liberal deputy Valeriu Munteanu blames his democrat and liberal-democrat colleagues: “Such systems exist everywhere in Europa, even in some African countries. In our country, however, although it works perfectly, it has not been put into practice due to the Democratic Party and the Liberal Democratic Party, which have tried to cheat.”

“I have never heard a bigger aberration. It is a lie. The system in fact does not work because the communist opposition has sabotaged it. If would work if the human factor did not use it in bad faith. A whole country saw how the communists on purpose pushed many buttons at the same time. In this way the system broke,” the democrat Sergiu Sârbu replied.

However, the liberal-democrat deputy Valeriu Streleţ has a different explanation. He says that the system cannot be used because those who had ordered the equipment had not requested that the equipment be made operational in accordance with the regulations of the Chişinău Parliament. “The graphical scheme of the room is not included. For instance, those who vote «pro» must be marked with one color and those who vote «con» – with a different color. I do not know how much it costs but after the campaign we will make a minute inspection to see how the money was spent,” the deputy promised several weeks ago.

Pacing the step for many months

Three months ago, Serghei Popovici, director of the Center for Special Telecommunications, explained that his employees were working on a technical analysis of the system. “The request came several months ago. We are preparing some technical specifications for this system, to make it more advanced and more convenient to the deputies. We will have to speak with the deputies and see how it better for them. There are many nuances and we want to do the best we can. We need time for this,” the institution’s chief said without specifying how much it would be necessary to make the system applicable.

Recently, Serghei Popovici told us that they were still analyzing the situation. “It is too early to speak about it. I am just an executor. It is not me to decide whether we will have an electronic voting system in the Parliament or not. Also, I do not know if additional costs for adapting the equipment will be necessary. Everything depends on the requirements put before us,” the director of the Center said this time.

Because none of the deputies we spoke with knew how much the equipment had cost, we tried to find out the price of the equipment officially.

“It wasn’t the Parliament responsible for repairing and installing his system. The representatives of the Ministry of Regional Development and Constructions should be the ones to provide an answer. We are also waiting for answers to many questions,” said Ala Popescu, Secretary General of the Parliament after we had sent a request for information to which the staff of the Legislative did not answer.

Former Minister: “If I knew I would tell you without cutting a dash”

Neither the responsible persons from the Ministry of Regional Development and Constructions could answer our question. “We can get the information about the costs of the electronic voting system installed in the Parliament from the general entrepreneur Consfirmgrup (the company that does the repair works in the buildings of the Parliament and of the President’s Office, devastated during the violent attacks in April 2009 – editor’s note), from the director Alexandru Guțu. The equipment was installed by Media Security SRL, a sub-entrepreneur of Consfirmgrup”, the Ministry staff wrote us.

“I am just an executor. The beneficiary (the Ministry of Regional Development and Constructions – editor’s note) knows all the information. Thank you for your understanding,” Alexandru Guţu apologized.

Victor Găină, director and the only founder of Media Security SRL, did not tell us how much the system and its installation cost either. “The project has been classified as state secret because it is related to IT and security system. After all, it is not a simple heating system. We have executed the project and now it is perfectly functional. A lot of inspections have been conducted, so everything is fine,” the head of the company assured us.

“Indeed, I signed papers that it was confidential. The contract clauses are confidential, so I will not reveal the information,’ Alexandru Guţu, the head of Consfirmgrup, remembered later.

“If the representatives of Media Security say that it is a secret, then it is a secret!” was one of the explanation given to us by responsible persons from the Ministry, refusing to formulate their answer in writing. “If I knew details, I would tell you without cutting a dash,” said in this connection Marcel Răducan back when he was being relieved from the minister office.

Activities smelling of corruption?

Experts in anticorruption and in media law say that the information about this system must be made public because the equipment was paid for from public funds. “This attitude is regrettable. If there is an electronic voting system it must be used. As a citizen, I would be interested to know how each deputy has voted. What is the sense of spending public money if the equipment is not used? I am curious to know the reason why the price is a secret,” said Galina Bostan, Director of the Center for Analysis and Prevention of Corruption.

“Public procurement contracts cannot be qualified as trade secrets because public money is used. The refusal to present a copy of the contract and its annexes is a violation of the Law on Access to Information. In this case, we have grounds to suspect that one tries to hide corruption-related acts,” commented the law Eugen Rîbca, expert in the legislation on access to information.

Former head of IT in the Parliament: “No system, in fact, exists”

According to the answer provided by the Ministry of Regional Development and Constructions, the tender for procuring an electronic voting system for the deputies took place back in 2009, with bids submitted by the companies Philips and Siemens from Germany, Bosch from the Netherlands, AIG, General Electric and Apollo from the USA. “Bosch from the Netherlands was the winner for having submitted an offer for an integrated and more complex system,” the same answer reads.

Dan Toma, former head of the Information Technologies Division of the Parliament, dismissed several months ago, says that the voting system does not function because it in fact does not exist! “Behind the fancy buttons and microphones on the deputies’ desks there is not information system in place that would manage the button pushing, recording and posting of processes and results online,” Dan Toma explained. The specialist also says that this error was made back when defining the requirements for such a system and describing the final product.

“Thus, something vague and little defined was implemented along the way. The insufficient involvement or even the lack of involvement from the leadership of the Secretariat of the Parliament in the end led to installing in the plenary meeting room bulks of buttons, microphones and devices for reading cards and other equipment that do not produce any useful effects in using them,” the former head of the Information Technology Division added.

Through another request sent to the Ministry, we tried to find out how much the entire technical equipment installed in the Parliament cost. “A contract was signed with Consfirmgrup SRL for the integral execution of capital repair works in the building of the Parliament. Media Security SRL acts as sub-entrepreneur of Consfirmgrup SRL and executes works of installation of the security system in the building,” the answer signed by Deputy Minister Anatolie Zolotcov reads.

The same answer also shows that over 308 million lei have been spent so far for the renovation of the Parliament Building. However, the repair works have not been completed. “Most of the works on the object have been completed. More work is to be executed in the basement, on the 1st, 2nd and 3rd floors, in the meeting room “Europa”, the ventilation, air conditioning and fire systems, and the dispatcher system,” also reads the letter received by CIJM.

Media Security purchased dictaphones for Anticorruption officers

Along the years, the authorities chose Media Security SRL as winner during many public tenders. For example, according to the website of the Public Procurement Agency, in July 2014 the company was hired to execute works for modernizing the servers room and the information and the infrastructure and information and communication technologies at the Central Electoral Commission. The amount of the contract was of 1,744,969 lei. Also in 2014, in March and April, under two different contracts with the total amount of nearly 90,000 lei, the National Anticorruption Center contracted the company to supply Dictaphones. In the same period, the Prosecutor’s Office too gave to the company nearly 8,000 lei for the repair and maintenance of video equipment.

Nonetheless, the works in the buildings of the Parliament and President’s Office, both of them devastated after the events of April 2009, are among the most important projects that the company staff have dealt with, according to the company’s website. In fact, in February 2012, Victor Gaina, director of Media Security, was part of the delegation of ministers and heads of companies who accompanied the liberal-democrat Vladimir Filat, prime minister at that time, in a visit to Kiev, Ukraine.

According to the data provided by the State Registration Chamber, in the latest report of Media Security SRL, the one from 2012, shows that the company apparently had revenues of 13,229,100 lei from sales. The objectives of activities declared by the company include detective and guardian services. Also, the company mounts and regulates automatic alert and fire extinguishing systems as well as systems for the protection of buildings against smoke and for notifying about fire incidents. Media Security also executes works for installing of installation of electrical systems and mounting of electric armature. At the same time, it conducts investigation and asset protection for individuals.

Guarded the Parliament’s building

Media Security staff guarded the Parliament’s
building during the repair works.

Consfirmgrup contracted Media Security also for guarding the Parliament’s building during the renovation works. The Ministry of Regional Development and Constructions did not answer either to our question about how much this service cost. “During the capital repair works, the guarding was assured by the general entrepreneur SC Consfirmgrup SRL. The costs were covered by the general entrepreneur. At present, in the “Г” block that is being used and where the plenary meeting and other rooms are located, the guarding is assured also by the Protection and State Guarding Service,” by letter signed by Anatolie Zolotcov reads.

“For about six years we paid 30,000 lei each month for their guarding of the construction site (over two million lei – editor’s note). The price proposed by Media Security was the smallest. In addition, the same company dealt with the installation of fire and sound systems, TV networks and many other things,” Alexandru Guţu from Consfirmgrup added.

Six years ago, after Consfirmgrup was chosen to deal with the repair of the buildings of the Parliament and of the President’s Office, the journalists of the Association of Independent Press were writing that until April 2009, 80% of the company had been owned by Vladimir Baldovici, former minister of Construction and Territorial Development in the period ruled by the Communists Party of Moldova. The former minister assigned his package of shares only several days before the tender. According to the State Registration Chamber, at present the company is held by (40%), Andrei Roşca (40%) and Lilia Druţă (20%). The latest financial report of Consfirmgrup, issued in 2012, shows that the company had obtained revenues of 70,820,100 lei from sales.

The investigation has been produced as part of the campaign “Journalists for Transparency in Managing Public Funds,” carried out by the Center for Investigative Journalism, with the support of US Embassy to Moldova.