This summer I had the opportunity to understand, on my own, what means to be an honest and disciplined citizen in Romania and what happens if you pay all your taxes to the state.
I had the most unpleasant and almost dramatic of experiences, which led me to think that whoever pays taxes to the Romanian state must be a naïve person, and that maybe citizens and companies active in Romania should not pay any tax to the state. Let me expand further on that, because I know that my conclusions are very tough and certain people could say I’m instigating civic disorder.
But I only want to ring the alarm bells and generate a debate on ground rules, not just highlight my specific case. But to do that, I need to explain what happened to me, which, I later found, was not a unique case. Abuse by state authorities is much more frequent than most think. At the same time, the authorities’ attitudes are so unprofessional and arrogant that it is necessary to let others know of what happens, in order to find a way to solve this real illness of the Romanian society.
The first experience is related to the pension contribution and the health contribution. My father, like millions of Romanians, paid his pension contribution all throughout his active life. He also pays health contribution from the pension he now receives. This year when he needed professional medical help and nursing, we couldn’t find a nursing home for him based on his health contribution and within the limits of his pension, because in Romania it’s impossible to find proper state owned nursing home for senior people. So, after researching, I had made an appeal to a private nursing home where all services are to the European level, where the senior people are treated professionally and with respect. However the problem is the price exceeds by far my father's pension and health contribution level. I wonder what happens to those who cannot afford to pay such prices. The only potential answer is that those seniors will be deprived of any professional nursing and that their lives will certainly shorten because of that.
The second experience is related to the unemployment contribution. The story is very simple. According to the legal rules, any person who is unemployed has the right to the monthly unemployment pay for one year after his/her layoff, in certain conditions such as: the person worked and paid (she/he and the employer) the unemployment contribution or the person does not have a work contract for a indeterminate or determinate period. Generally, the monthly unemployment pay is calculated in such way that it is limited to small amounts, which are not enough during these crisis periods. And usually either finding a job or building one's business requires more time and money. So, in these conditions, many unemployed people undertake various activities, mostly very poorly paid, in order to succeed and get through this bad period in their lives. If you are an honest person, you’ll work on legal basis and, in such situations, you might lose your monthly unemployment pay, in spite of your annual payments to the unemployment fund, made during your professional career.
Concretely, in my case because I delivered a few teaching hours to one university, on an hourly based payment, I lost my monthly unemployment, thanks to the bureaucrats from the Unemployment Agency, who did not take into account the documents showing how much I actually made and how much I had paid to the state for those amounts. They concluded I cheated the state, canceled my unemployment pay and asked me to return everything I had received as unemployment benefits. It all depended on the Unemployment Agency officer's mood and interpretation of the legal framework.
The third experience is related to the second because my unemployment rights were canceled only after the unemployment agency had to calculate my sick leave rights, which is when they discovered that my so called employer (that university I worked for a couple of hours during a semester) had paid health contribution on my behalf. So, even if that university had paid the amounts to the National Health House, I didn’t actually benefit from the money for my sick leave. So where is the money the temporary employer had paid?
Concluding, in my situation I lost my unemployment rights, I have had to pay back all the monthly unemployment pays I had cashed, and I didn’t received any money for my sick leave. All these even though I had always paid my dues to the state, and always acted correctly.
So probably a few questions are in order. In the case of the pension funds:
Where is the money that people paid all throughout their careers? And knowing that the pensions are paid from the contributions paid by nowadays workers, and not from a pensioner has paid throughout their live, more questions come up. Where are the economic policies to stimulate the economy and create more jobs, in order to support the pension fund?
Where are the financial policies to stimulate effective labor being able to generate good returns? Where are the social policies, which encourage honest work and correct social assistance? Where are the state-owned nursing homes, which offer proper conditions to the senior people?
In the unemployment contribution situation: Where is the money, which we all paid to the fund during our careers? How is the social ratio calculated? Who can live with an unemployment benefit of EUR 120 a month? Which were the criteria used to define a labor contract?
And by the way, in my case I paid unemployment contribution for more than 20 years calculated on good returns.
What do unemployment agencies offer to the unemployed people? In my experience …nothing. In almost 6 months, the only thing I was offered by a bored officer at the unemployment agency was a monthly stamp on the unemployment card.
In my case they stamped that card monthly and six months later they detected the so-called error, in spite of the fact that the type of contract, which I had, isn’t considered a work contract. The question is, can an officer holder have the right to bring a person to a state close to starvation, by hiding behind an imaginary error and/or poor legal interpretation of law?
In the health fund situation: Where is the money, which we pay, if any bureaucrat can decide if you have or not right to it? Which set of rules allows an officer to take away this right?
In my career I paid a contribution that could cover more than a doctor's monthly salary and the only benefit I got was from time to time a subsidized drug prescription. The conditions in the state hospitals were poor so I always used a private network.
Additional questions must be asked: What are state clerks who work in the pensions, health or unemployment agencies paid for? Why should we pay their salaries if when you are in need you don't get any support? Why do they treat certain social categories (senior people, sick people, unemployed people) with disregard, arrogance and sometimes even aggressively? Why does the legal framework allows so many interpretations?
After having experienced many of these things myself, I asked myself what can we do, and what are the solutions. At an individual level, in concrete situation, such issues can only be solved in court, but that requires patience are lawsuits take years, and a senior, for example, doesn't have that much time, while unemployed people need to find work, rather than go to court.
These problems must be solved at a social level and solutions can theoretically come from the civil society, politicians and authorities. Taking into account the poor quality of our politicians and state bureaucrats, I think that the only solutions should come from us the citizens and the Romanian civil society.
The social policies, the unprofessionalism, dishonesty and lack of empathy of state clerks will never change until we start asking ourselves seriously why we, Romanian citizens and companies, pay any tax to the state, and maybe until we decide not to pay unless something in the system improves.
Sadly, this is another true face of the beautiful and fascinating Romania!
By Mariana Ganea, guest writer