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Mass Exodus from Moldova, the Fastest Shrinking Country in the World

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CHISINAU, Moldova — On a rainy October day, two years ago, Oleg Bumbac, 29, landed at Luton Airport, in southern England. While walking on the airstairs, dressed in a blue business suit, Bumbac realized that he left Moldova for good.

“I felt a bittersweet feeling of guilt and excitement. I did it, I said to myself,” remembered Bumbac. After six years of medical school and four years of working as an emergency doctor in Moldova, he realized that he couldn’t live anymore with a salary of 134 Euro a month. He needed to leave.

Bumbac is not the only Moldovan fed up with the country enough to move away. More than 15 percent of Moldova’s population, some 550 thousand citizens, currently live outside Moldova, according to Civis Centre of sociological, political and psychological investigations. The total number of migrants translates into a third of the employable population while every fifth of them is actually a highly qualified worker (teacher, doctor, economist or engineer). According to BBC, four people exit the country for a better life every hour, making Moldova the fastest shrinking country in the world.

Moldova is now at a crossroads. After almost twenty years, the country faces the first direct presidential elections. On Nov. 14, the day after the second round, pro-Russia candidate Igor Dodon or pro-Europe rival Maia Sandu will officially become the head of state. If pro-Russia candidate Igor Dodon wins presidency, Moldova could forge closer ties with Russia again. Meanwhile, Bumbac will vote for a European future in the heart of England. “In the first round, there weren’t enough ballots. I am afraid that not everyone will be able to vote on Nov. 13, but I am so moved. Moldovans across the world are gathering together to choose their president,” said Bumbac .

Oleg Bumbac (29, doctor) is one of 550 thousand citizens of Moldova who left the country. Photo: Victoria Colesnic

Oleg Bumbac (29, doctor) is one of 550 thousand citizens of Moldova who left the country. Photo: Victoria Colesnic

From Moldova to England

Oleg Bumbac was born in a small village, surrounded by vineyards and fruit gardens, called Hajdieni in northern Moldova. He graduated the lyceum in Glodeni city, where he edited a local newspaper with a close friend. As a child, Bumbac loved to study and was the teachers’ first candidate for different academic competitions. After graduating school, the boy decided to become a doctor, so he moved to Chisinau, the capital of Moldova. “The admission contest was fierce. More than fifteen candidates competed for each place,” Bumbac said. Yet, he managed to get a state-funded scholarship at the Faculty of General Medicine.

After six years of challenging studies, Bumbac got his first job as an emergency assistant in the Municipal Emergency Hospital. “I didn’t expect it to be easy, but it felt impossible. I don’t remember days when the emergency kit had everything it was supposed to. I had the most important medicine, but the kit was never full.” Meanwhile, in 2013, Bumbac’s salary was about 100 Euro for ten 24-hour shifts per month while the living wage (the minimum income necessary to meet basic needs) was 98 EUR. In order to survive, Bumbac used to take more shifts. “Of course, I chose the cheapest rent. But to be able to pay even that, I had to take 15-18 shifts every month. Sometimes, I had to stay for 48 hours straight, because there were not enough doctors, which also happened frequently,” Bumbac stated.

Even employed as an emergency room doctor, Bumbac didn’t receive more than 130 EUR. According to him, every emergency medical team should have at least one doctor and two to three assistants, but these teams were never complete. “So I had to respond to the patient’s request completely alone. A lot of pressure was put on the doctors. And, of course, in these stressful conditions, I was not allowed to make any mistakes,” said Bumbac.

The idea of leaving Moldova was always in the back of his head. “A lot of my colleagues had left and I was so tired to live slightly above minimum wage. I wasn’t able to buy clothes, books or to travel anywhere,” said Bumbac. He managed to survive because of his mother who also left the country and started working in Greece in order to help the family. For more than 15 years, she cooked pastries and taught Russian language. “She was my help, I wouldn’t have made it without her,” said Bumbac.

During the following six months, Bumbac passed through a lot of interviews, collected recommendation letters and prepared for the big journey. When he was told that he had gotten a job at a private hospital in England, he needed a few minutes to realize his life was about to change drastically. “I had very mixed feelings. I left my job with a feeling of guilt, because I was leaving my colleagues behind, amazing doctors, who are not guilty that the medical system in Moldova is ruined. But I was also so excited! I knew it was going to be huge,” said Bumbac.

Two years ago, on Oct. 16, Bumbac passed for the first time the threshold of the British hospital. “I was excited, but also very stressed. I had to prove that I am a good doctor if I wanted to stay. I even took a small bag because I didn’t know what this unbelievable journey would bring,” said Bumbac.

Now Bumbac lives in London and is the hospital’s doctor on call. Every day, he supervises up to 60 patients or more, responds to all kinds of emergencies and works with his patients’ physicians on their follow-up treatment. He talks warmly with his patients about Moldova. “I even have this prepared presentation. It sounds like this: Moldova is a tiny country between Romania and Ukraine. It has the biggest wine cellars in the world and the tastiest wine in Eastern Europe,” said Bumbac like talking to an invisible camera. At work, on his desk, he keeps a small traditional clay bell. “It has Moldova written on it and it has this small vine leaf as the bell clapper, so that I don’t forget where I should return,” he said.

No wind of change

On 7th of April, thousands of demonstrators claimed that 2009 parliamentary election results were fraudulent and gathered in major cities of Moldova demanding a recount, a new election, or resignation of the communist government. In Chisinau, where the number of protesters rose above 30,000, the demonstration escalated into a riot. On this day, Bumbac protested peacefully in the center of the capital. “I am not a rebel. I couldn’t throw stones, but I was on the side of those who did, because that communist government deserved the stones. Unfortunately, the change that we had brought [the pro-European parties] didn’t fulfill our expectations for a bright European future,” he said. At these presidential elections, Bumbac thinks that Moldova has a chance to start over. “Watching the debates, I realized that Igor Dodon is a rasist, intolerant person. Maia Sandu is the only honest candidate, that has a plan on fighting the corruption’, said Bumbac. “If we don’t win this battle, I sincerely don’t see any perspectives in Moldova for now,” he said.

According to a national survey, conducted by Magenta research company in March 2016, 83 percent of citizens of Moldova think that the country is going in the wrong direction while 60 percent of Moldavans claim that they are worse off than they were last year. On top of it, 74 percent are convinced that the situation will either not change or will become even worse.

infographic

Vitalie Varzari, a local consultant at the International Organization for Migration believes that “the lack of trust in the state institutions, the disappointment in the society and the country encouraged migration.” On the other hand, Ruslan Sintov, sociologist and director of Civis Centre of sociological, political and psychological investigations, is convinced that the effects of the disappointment are yet to be seen. “If the economic situation in the country does not get better, people will continue to leave. According to our surveys, another 100 thousand citizens have intentions to leave Moldova in the next 12 months. Moreover, the number of those who took all their family members with them doubled during the last two years,” Sintov affirmed.

Experts agree that the most frightening phenomenon is the unwillingness of the citizens to return. “If in 2012, the migrants were saving money to buy a house here, now the number of those willing to invest in real estate in Moldova is decreasing dramatically. If in 2013, 40 percent of migrants were interested to invest in Moldova, then by now, this intention has shrunk by a third,” Sintov continued, explaining that it all comes down to the $1 billion embezzlements. “The decision to leave the country is a difficult one, so we can’t expect a massive and quick response from the population, but we are convinced that even more people will leave Moldova, if nothing changes.”

Bumbac sees his leave as a form of protest against the reality in Moldova. “What else can doctors do? If they quit, they will starve. If they change the job, they will lose their profession. So the only solution is to leave the country. This is the only way to attract the government’s attention. People will suffer, but then again they already do. The protests don’t work. People stayed in the streets for almost a year and nothing changed,” recalled Bumbac the large scale anti-corruption demonstrations in Moldova during 2015.

However, Bumbac is one of the few willing to return someday. “I think I will stay in the U.K. for the next ten years, but then I would like to come back and implement the things I learnt. I still feel indebted to our medical system that formed me as a specialist”. The man recognizes that he has no idea how he will be able to do that. “Probably, I will have to save money so that I don’t need to survive with Moldova’s salary. You know, I realized that managing to live in Moldova is actually a luxury,” added Bumbac and chuckled, looking through the window.

Important

EU official: “It’s been a long time we’ve been patient. We will judge the Government’s actions objectively.”

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Director for Russia, Eastern partnership, Central Asia and OSCE, and Deputy Managing Director for Europe and Central Asia at the European External Action Service (EEAS), Luc Pierre Devigne, paid a visit to Chișinău today to participate in the 5th meeting of the EU-Moldova Association Committee.

He addressed a message to the Moldovan government during a press conference, criticising the way the reforms were implemented in the country, especially the way the famous bank fraud from Moldova, called also “the theft of the century” was investigated. Devigne considers inadmissible the fact that, after five years, the persons and companies that were involved in the fraud were not held accountable.

“It is unacceptable that after the theft of the billion was uncovered and deeply investigated by a leading financial investigation team – the Kroll company, whose findings were made publicly available, the investigation was still not finalised on various pretexts. We cannot believe that it is legally not possible to prosecute such a fraud.[…] It is the responsibility of the Government to ensure that justice works in the country. We want to see an open and transparent process that includes not only the Government, but also the consultation of opposition, civil society and the EU institutions recommendations.” said Devigne.

The EU official told the Moldovan politicians: “It’s time for actions. It’s been a long time we’ve been supportive, we’ve been patient. Now, we will judge the Government’s actions objectively.”

“The EU has always supported the Republic of Moldova, but the EU cannot substitute for good governance and the actions that should be taken by the Government. Our support is not unconditional.”

He said that European assistance will depend on how laws and democratic standards will be respected in Moldova. Particularly, Luc Pierre Devigne mentioned that the Republic of Moldova should join the Anticorruption Network for an effective fight against corruption, strengthen independent media and improve the quality of life in the case of the Moldovan citizens.

Luc Pierre Devigne also referred to the subject of the Citizenship by Investment Law, on which the Government applied a moratorium, but only until February 24, 2020. The official was disappointed that people who obtained such kind of citizenship remained anonymous. “We do not see this as compatible with a serious and secure visa liberalisation regime. It’s a security issue.” highlighted Devigne.

One of the central messages of the EU delegation to Moldova concerned the importance of boosting the cooperation between Moldova and the community bloc.

At the same time, the Moldovan authorities reiterated their commitment to comply with the recommendations of international organisations such as the OSCE and the Venice Commission, and to ensure public consultations on major projects.

Photo: cotidianul.md

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Economy

The IMF conclusions// will the last part of the program funds be disbursed to Moldova?

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An International Monetary Fund (IMF) team, led by Ruben Atoyan, the head of the IMF Mission, visited Moldova between January 22 to February 5 to conduct the 2020 Article IV consultation and the sixth and final review of Moldova’s economic program supported by the IMF’s Extended Credit Facility (ECF) and Extended Fund Facility (EFF) arrangements.

Ruben Atoyan appreciated the discussions with the Moldovan authorities as consistent and insistent and confirmed that the Government team has demonstrated openness and determination in implementing the necessary reforms. Most of the objectives of the Moldova – IMF program were achieved and the program was a successful one, as a statement of the Government of the Republic of Moldova communicated.

At the meeting of Prime Minister Ion Chicu with the IMF team staff, the objectives to be achieved in the next period were discussed, including the approval of the legislation regarding non-banking financial institutions for the sustainable and safe development of this sector.

The parties also exchanged views on the consolidation of the national banking system and the pension system, concluded the need to focus on the objective of ensuring a sustainable, balanced and more inclusive economic growth, as well as discussed the reforms in education, healthcare and social policies to increase the standard of living in the Republic of Moldova, to combat migration and to change demographic trends.

On February 5, the IMF Communication Department issued a concluding statement that describes the preliminary findings of IMF staff at the end of the official visit to Moldova.

The most important conclusions were:

  • The last review under the IMF program is scheduled for March 16, 2020. The completion of the review will make available another  SDR 14.4 million (about $20 million) for Moldova;
  • The program has been successful in achieving its objectives. Comprehensive reforms have rehabilitated the banking system and strengthened financial sector governance, entrenching macro-financial stability;
  • Despite successful economical stabilisation efforts, widespread and significant governance and institutional vulnerabilities are major impediments to boosting living standards of Moldovan people, especially high perception of corruption, weak rule of law and political instability present risks;
  • Prudent and well-coordinated policies are needed to safeguard the progress achieved. Decisive governance and institutional reforms are necessary for faster, sustainable, and inclusive growth.

“The program was success and achieved its goals. The comprehensive reforms have rehabilitated the banking system and strengthened the finance sector, this progress is commendable under the conditions of a volatile political situation,” said Ruben Atoyan, the head of the IMF Mission at a press conference.

source: gov.md

Next, Prime Minister of Moldova is going to send a letter to the IMF asking for another mission’s visit to Chisinau for conducting an evaluation and prepare a new international program.

“With the current program successfully completed, half the chances of having a new program are assured,” Ion Chicu claimed optimistically.

The prime minister said that the Government wants a new program with the IMF, not only for the international funds that can be granted, but also for the support and assistance that can be received in promoting reforms.

**

Moldova’s three-year IMF program was approved on November 7, 2016, being supported by a loan of 129.4 million special drawing rights (SDR), which is about $182 million, or 75% of the Republic of Moldova’s quota. 115 million SDR (about US$160 million) have been already disbursed. Two thirds of the loan are provided under the Extended Credit Facility, which carries a zero interest rate through 2018, a grace period of 5½ years, and a 10-year maturity. The rest of the loan is provided under the Extended Fund Facility, which carries an annual interest rate equal to the SDR basic rate of charge (currently 1.7 percent), and is repayable over 10 years with a 4½ -year grace period.

Photo: gov.md

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Important

An International Monetary Fund mission will visit Chişinău next week

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An International Monetary Fund (IMF) mission, led by Ruben Atoyan, will be visiting the capital city of the Republic of Moldova during January 22 – February 5, 2020, as a press release of the IMF permanent representative office in Moldova stated.

According to the statement, during the visit, the mission will hold discussions with Moldovan authorities “in preparation of the 2020 Article IV consultation and in the context of the sixth and final reviews of Moldova’s IMF-supported program under the Extended Credit Facility (ECF) and the Extended Fund Facility (EFF) arrangements.” 

Under Article IV of the IMF’s Articles of Agreement, the IMF holds bilateral discussions with members. First, a staff team visits the country, collects economic and financial information, and discusses with officials the country’s economic developments and policies. On return to headquarters, the staff prepares a report, which forms the basis for discussion by the Executive Board (IMF Factsheet on Surveillance), as it is explained on the organisation’s official page.

“The mission will take stock of the recent economic developments and the progress in authorities’ program implementation, update and assess the macroeconomic outlook, and discuss with the authorities medium-term challenges and risk facing Moldova’s economy and policies to address them,” is mentioned in the press release.

The last visit of the IMF staff team in Moldova took place during October 2–8, 2019. At the conclusion of the visit, Mr. Atoyan made the following statement:

“We commend the authorities for taking decisive actions to bring the IMF-supported program back on track and advancing reforms. During the past week, we have held constructive discussions on recent economic developments and policies to maintain macroeconomic and fiscal stability. To this end, the mission initiated discussions on policy priorities and financing for the 2020 budget. Discussions on measures and reforms to support the fiscal policy package for 2020 will continue in the period ahead, including during the upcoming IMF-World Bank Annual Meetings in Washington, D.C.”

In December 2019, Prime Minister Ion Chicu declared that a pause in the relationship with the IMF could be taken if the given organisation opposes investments in infrastructure or insists on the rise in gas tariffs. “Our goal is to build lasting relationships with the IMF, but not at any cost,” stated Premier Ion Chicu.

The head of the Moldovan Government noted that a new program could be signed with IMF, after the current program expires in March. However, according to him, the IMF is a partner that imposes conditions that can restrict the Government’s development plans and investments in infrastructure. “The IMF is a partner of the Republic of Moldova and I am for having a program supported by this institution. Beyond the financial aspect, there is the one of reforms. I want to finalise the existing program by March and then have another,” said Ion Chicu.

Moldova’s three-year IMF program was approved on November 7, 2016, being supported by a loan of 129.4 million special drawing rights (SDR), which is about $182 million, or 75% of the Republic of Moldova’s quota. 115 million SDR (about US$160 million) have been already disbursed. Two thirds of the loan are provided under the Extended Credit Facility, which carries a zero interest rate through 2018, a grace period of 5½ years, and a 10-year maturity. The rest of the loan is provided under the Extended Fund Facility, which carries an annual interest rate equal to the SDR basic rate of charge (currently 1.7 percent), and is repayable over 10 years with a 4½ -year grace period.

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