Dan Bilefsky of the New York Times is a roving reporter with a knack for revealing the heart of things. He’s done that now for the problem of petty corruption in Romania. His story is about the human consequences of the countless little bribes so often ignored and unreported, and categorized as those pesky and insignificant facilitating payments. Here’s how he starts:
BUCHAREST, Romania — Alina Lungu, 30, said she did everything necessary to ensure a healthy pregnancy in Romania: she ate organic food, swam daily and bribed her gynecologist with an extra $255 in cash, paid in monthly installments handed over discreetly in white envelopes.
She paid a nurse about $32 extra to guarantee an epidural and even gave about $13 to the orderly to make sure he did not drop the stretcher.
But on the day of her delivery, she said, her gynecologist never arrived. Twelve hours into labor, she was left alone in her room for an hour. A doctor finally appeared and found that the umbilical cord was wrapped twice around her baby’s neck and had nearly suffocated him. He was born blind and deaf and is severely brain damaged.
Now, Alina and her husband, Ionut, despair that the bribes they paid were not enough to prevent the negligence that they say harmed their son, Sebastian. “Doctors are so used to getting bribes in Romania that you now have to pay more in order to even get their attention,” she said.
Romania, a poor Balkan country of 22 million that joined the European Union two years ago, is struggling to shed a culture of corruption that was honed during decades of Communism, when Romanians endured long lines just to get basics like eggs and milk and used bribes to acquire scarce products and services.
Alarm is growing in Brussels that Romania and other recent entrants to the European Union are undermining the bloc’s rule of law. The European Commission, the European Union’s executive body, published a damning report last month criticizing Romania for backtracking on judicial changes necessary to fight corruption. And Transparency International, the Berlin-based anticorruption watchdog, ranked Romania as the second most corrupt country in the 27-member European Union last year, behind neighboring Bulgaria.
Those who have faced corruption allegations in recent years have included a former prime minister, more than 1,100 doctors and teachers, 170 police officers and 3 generals, according to Romanian anticorruption investigators.
Romanians say it is the everyday graft and bribery that blights their lives, and nowhere are the abuses more glaring than in the socialized health care system.
Interviews with doctors, patients and ethicists suggest that the culture of bribery has infected every level of the system, sometimes leaving patients desperate.
One doctor said a patient recently offered him a free shopping trip to Dubai . . . .
Dan Bilefsky’s article is well worth a trip to the New York Times here.
The EU’s February 12, 2009, “Interim Report from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council” on Romania’s progress to remedy judicial shortcomings and fight against corruption can be downloaded here.