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Economy

Unaffordable prices for low quality transportation services in Moldova or the apple of discord among carriers and the Government

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The Employers Association of Car Transport Operators from Moldova organised a protest yesterday and today. More than 250 transport units have been brought to the city centre of Chișinău, and about 250 other units are stationed in villages and district centres. That means 586 trips of 124 regular routes were suspended.

The carriers require the adjustment of the tariffs for transportation by doubling them (from 0.48 lei/km to 0.92 lei/km). On the other hand, the Government officials consider that only after providing decent transport conditions for passengers, the request of tariff adjustment can be discussed. In the meantime, people have to wait for hours for public transportation all over the country.

The <<Marshrutka>> phenomenon

The public transportation in Moldova is not expensive at all from an outside perspective. There are few countries on the European continent where one can travel from the airport to the city centre of a city for 0.10 euro. The prices for longer distance travel using mainly the so-called marshrutkas (fixed-route minivans) and sometimes buses may also look more than affordable. Nonetheless, due to low income, these prices seem high for the main client segment – the local population.

Moreover, passengers in Moldova accept and tolerate to travel standing and ‘packed like sardines’ (as local people like to say) sometimes their whole route. Some people still approach the driver to pay, that meaning their ticket money are not officially recorded and paid. The schedule of busses and minivans is sometimes confusing and not accurate, the transport services being provided on old and insecure vehicles.

The protest of transportation companies

According to protesters, the last change of tariffs took place six years ago and they incur losses because of this. Oleg Alexa, the president of the Employers’ Association of Car Transport Operators, explained for Moldova.org that there is a Government decision, approved ten years ago, which provides for the adjustment of tariffs in the transportation area once a year. However, the decision was not respected. The last adjustment of the tariffs was made six years ago, in November 2013, and was obtained by addressing the matter to the court. That time, the tariffs were increased from 0.38 to 0.48 lei/km.

“We are basically all bankrupt and we have a staff shortage of 3,000 employees.”

At the same time, during the negotiations with the representatives of the Ministry of Economy, the carriers have presented a list of proposals that could cause the tariff not to increase so much. That means carriers require partially maintaining the current conditions of passengers’ transportation, namely reusing transport units, transporting passengers standing up to 50 km, combating illicit passenger transport, importing transport units up to a certain age, eliminating abusive tax controls, etc. If the authorities will consider the carriers’ proposals, they would be willing to accept a lower tariff than the one requested during the protest, as Oleg Alexa stated.

At the same time, the Ministry of Economy and Infrastructure declared that the Government is against increasing the tariffs on transport, specifying that the adjustment of the tariffs can only be discussed after the passengers will be provided with civilised travel conditions.

In a press release, the Government disapproved the decision of the carriers to suspend 600 trips, thus blocking the movement of citizens, motivating the strike by the refusal of the Ministry of Economy and Infrastructure to increase the tariffs on national road services.

The experts’ opinion

Economic experts say that the request of the carriers is justified, but the tariffs should be increased gradually, in order to not affect the citizens.

The economic expert Veaceslav Ioniță declared that the carriers have at least 50% higher costs as compared to six years ago. This is mainly due to the basic components of tariffs – employees’ salaries, the cost of spare parts and fuel price, which have all increased.

According to him, the authorities impose more and more stringent requirements on the carriers, which means that the carriers can no longer use old cars, but have to buy well-maintained cars, that implying additional costs.

As for the requested increase of tariffs, the expert claims that it is obvious that the carriers “requested an exaggerated tariff, hoping that they will reach a middle ground at the negotiations.” In the same context, he noted, however, that the current government has a reason to be upset about the carriers. This is because they have not taken such actions in the past, during the six years since the tariffs were maintained.

At the same time, Ioniță warned that tariffs are politicised in Moldova. “They are approved by the authorities. It is not an independent regulation. Because of this, carriers are also vulnerable,” claimed Ioniță.

As it seems, the protests of the carriers will continue and the public transportation problem in the Republic of Moldova will not be so easy to be solved, as several contradicting interests exist. One thing is clear: Moldovan passengers of national and international routes have to suffer in this situation.

Photo: ipn.md

Important

Media censorship during state of emergency: no personal opinions, no information that is not confirmed by state officials

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In the context of state of emergency declared on the territory of the Republic of Moldova, the president of the Audiovisual Council (AC) of the Republic of Moldova, Dragoș Vicol, issued, on March 24, a provision through which, media outlets from all over the country are obliged to present only the official position of the competent public authorities. Additionally, journalists are not allowed to express their own opinion when reflecting the subjects that concern the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Under the conditions of state of emergency on the territory of Moldova, the official position of the competent public authorities (World Health Organization, the National Extraordinary Public Health Commission, the Government of the Republic of Moldova, the Ministry of Health, Labour and Social Protection) will be presented, those being more knowledgeable and more competent institutions regarding this matter,” is mentioned in the provision published on the AC official page.

In its attempt to fight fake news, sensationalism and infodemic situations characterised by overabundance of information that can create confusion, panic and insecurity, the AC risks to violate freedom of speech, opinated Petru Macovei, the executive director of the Independent Press Association (IPA) cited by ZdG.

These provisions are qualified by Macovei as an abuse in the field of audiovisual media services. “These provisions limit the right of journalists to issue value judgements related to the authorities’ efficiency,” stated Petru Macovei.

This is what the AC provides exactly: “During the period of emergency, the presenters / moderators / editors will unilaterally renounce the unannounced statement and favouring of both their own opinion and free formation of arbitrary opinions when reflecting the topics concerning the COVID-19 pandemic.”

At the same time, the regulatory institution affirmed that “the only reliable, truthful, impartial and balanced source of information is that from competent public authorities in the country and abroad.”

During the broadcasts made on the subject COVID-19, the representatives of the authorities should be invited, or at least they should be able to talk over the phone, as well as to present video or audio recordings with the position of a public authority, stated the president of AC for TV8.

In his opinion, everybody should trust the official sources. “Why do you doubt it? Now it is not the proper moment for labelling and considering that someone is hiding the information. I cannot believe that there are tendencies for certain state authorities to hide information,” Dragoș Vicol claimed.

However, experts say it is more about forbidding inconvenient statements and controlling the information flow.

“This decision needs to be reconsidered by the AC because, in its current form, it contains very clear elements of censorship. […] It is important to warn the European Commission about the abuses that occur in the Republic of Moldova under the pretext of state of emergency,” Petru Macovei highlighted.

“Such decisions are counter-productive when referring to the transparency of the authorities and the communication to the public to prevent the spread of the virus and recover the social-economic situation,” mentioned political analyst Dionis Cenușă, arguing that the AC provision still covers important issues related to a correct way of communicating information and dealing with the phenomenon of fake news.

Photo: Wendy Kenigsberg |University Photography

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Education

The possibility to learn online – schools from Moldova are looking for solutions in the context of coronavirus

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As students stopped attending schools due to the measures taken to fight the pandemic caused by coronavirus, the educational institutions from Moldova turn more and more of their attention to the online lessons alternative.

So far, the physical attendance of classes was interrupted in all schools of the country until March 31.

Last week, the methodology regarding the distance continuation of the educational process under quarantine circumstances was approved by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Research of the Republic of Moldova. The guideline aimed to answer the most important questions regarding the further organisation of the educational process. Among the highlighted tools were use of information technologies and digital teaching materials in order to communicate, teach and interact with students.

Some parents have already shared the experience of their children while attending online classes on zoom.us, for example. “This is how a virtual class is organised, in which the teacher sees everyone and asks questions, names the one who has to answer,” specified one of such parents.

“First, it was unusual and loud. After that, children got used to it, followed the rules and it turned to be quite effective. In the afternoon, they do their homework. We film, take photos and provide them to teachers,” added another parent.

The recommended by Moldovan teachers online educational platforms are Zoom.us, Google Classroom, studii.md, Proprofs, socrative.com, learning.apps, Kahoot, quizizz.com, Classtime, Wordwall, ClassTools, Onlinetestpad, Microsoft teams, Learning app, Livresq, etc.

The need of continuation of the educational process made possible the massive adoption of such electronic platforms as studii.md, which is a platform developed with the contribution of UNDP and the Center of Excellence Tekwill, aiming to modernise the education process and gradually transfer it into electronic format.

The platform is currently used by 25 schools, while another 88 educational institutions have requested to be connected to it. Teachers have the opportunity to upload video lessons from their computer or mobile phone, attach teaching materials to homework, leave comments with explanations and observations. Students can address questions in comments, attach files with the tasks to be verified by the teacher. All users have access to electronic agendas and registers, the schedule of lessons, while the administration also has the possibility to generate statistical reports.

Another important educational project initiated in this period is Future Classroom Lab – a pilot project based on a public-private partnership that claims to offer a new concept in pedagogy, “offering an open and inspirational learning space with innovative approaches, using digital technologies,” as the official page of the project describes it.

Within the pale of the project, video tutorials for students preparing for the graduating exams of the summer 2020 session are already posted.

Also, a public TV station announced that it will broadcast the educational video tutorials for final exams preparation, informed the Ministry of Education, Culture and Research representatives.

source: Facebook|Future Classroom Lab

Chisinau City Hall is developing an online library of video lessons recorded in the studios of higher education institutions in the capital city. The online library will be accessible to all beneficiaries of the education system in the municipality, with the possibility of extension for students from all over the country.

The Information and Career Guidance Center of the Technical University of Moldova announced that final exams preparation courses in mathematics and computer science will be continuously organised, the videos being live-streamed on Facebook.

According to the authorities, all educational institutions are equipped with computers. It is provided that teachers who do not have the necessary internet or equipment at home can access the resources in schools, the Ministry of Education, Culture and Research claiming that it makes sure, in this period, that each school is equipped with all necessary facilities.

However, there are still children who do not have computers at home or are not connected to the internet all over the country. According to the National Bureau of Statistics, 52.3% of Moldovan families have at least one computer at home, those from rural areas having a visible disadvantage when compared to families from cities. At the same time, the same source said that only 41% of the population of Moldova has a computer and 38.7% have internet access.

Still, who knows how fast things can improve driven by the urge to resist in such a volatile environment created by the current pandemic situation. And maybe we could understand, one day, that education can be moved online, at least partially.

Photo: Helloquence |Unsplash

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Economy

In the coronavirus economic crisis: attempts to help the most affected sectors

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The National Extraordinary Public Health Commission issued recently a decision, according to which the activity of shops, restaurants, fitness centres, concert halls, theatres, cinemas, museums must be stopped by April 1. The adopted measure is related to the state of emergency declared by the Parliament of the Republic of Moldova throughout the territory of the country until May 15.

As a consequence, business associations from Moldova called for adoption of supporting measures to help companies mitigate the negative effects of the coronavirus outbreak. An online petition addressed to the Government of the Republic of Moldova was signed by thousands of citizens.

“The most powerful hit will be recorded in the case of small and medium-sized enterprises. Considering their vulnerability, the impact can be irrecoverable. Many of them will suffer major losses, some will partially or completely cease their activity, others may go bankrupt. Such areas as services, leisure, tourism, hotel, restaurants, catering, retail, event organisers and many others will be affected by quarantine and preventive measures,” the petition stated.

Government’s list of actions

On March 19, Prime Minister Ion Chicu announced a list of measures that will be taken to help business entities from Moldova during the pandemic situation. Among them are such measures as:

  • postponing income tax payments;
  • reducing VAT taxes for restaurant, hotels and catering companies;
  • introducing a moratorium for tax controls;
  • cancelling the compulsory audit of the individual financial statements for the year 2019;
  • offering the possibility of commercial banks to reschedule mortgages for individuals and provide loans under more favourable conditions;
  • increasing the Government Intervention Fund by 150 million lei, for offering bank lending guarantees to strategic economic entities, etc.

“The extraordinary situation requires extraordinary measures. The crisis will generate losses, but together we will identify solutions to reduce losses. […] At the moment, the budget incomes are at a normal level, being 14% higher than compared to the similar period of last year. We need to identify adequate policies and measures to minimise the effects of this crisis,” said Ion Chicu during the meeting with business associations, as a Government statement reported.

Source: gov.md

The National Bank of Moldova (NBM) announced that the institution will continue to use all available tools to meet the objectives of price stability and consolidation of the banking sector, which, at the moment, is declared as being well capitalised and resilient.

However, economic experts say that the pandemic could affect the labor market and that the authorities have little room to financially help the business environment, as it is the case in European countries, but it could resort to external loans.

Companies’ mitigation measures

Andrei Crigan who is an economist and business consultant, said that especially small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) are subject to lower incomes under the pandemic conditions, due to the pressure exercised by fixed costs such as rent, utilities and salaries.

According to the economist, companies must make crisis plans, analysing cost cutting, contract re-negotiations and losses minimisation opportunities. “In this period, the most important thing is the association with other entrepreneurs in order to exchange experience, observation of what others are doing to protect themselves, merging efforts and distributing the expenses together,” explained the specialist.

Also, Crigan stated that it is premature to talk about how much money the state will need in order to support the business environment.

In this regard, companies are advised to take more and more into account digital marketing activities in order to survive in such hard conditions. Offer home delivery possibilities, invest in digital promotion through social media and in situational marketing through corporate social responsibility are just some of them. Additionally, companies shall try to switch to online payment methods and active use of contactless bank cards, so as to reduce the risks of COVID-19 transmission.

Specific industries’ problems

Not all companies can switch to online environment though. Economic expert at Expert-Grup, Iurie Morcotîlo, said that companies oriented to the internal market, such as hotels, restaurants, shops, will be affected in the short term, because the main revenues come from direct contact with people.

In the long run, exports-oriented enterprises will be affected, because consumer demand among importing countries will decrease. “We must acknowledge that public finances this year will be suffering significantly, as the volume of tax collections will be lower than anticipated at the beginning of the year. The state budget will have to be revised and many initially planned expenditures will not be disbursed,” the expert claimed.

According to the economic expert, there is a reserve fund for exceptional situations, but not for business support, while the Government could resort to external credits or increasing the domestic debt, if the volume of expenses will grow.

Not all companies took the necessary preventive measures related to the COVID-19 pandemic situation. Activists are alarmed that work on some construction sites wasn’t stopped, as well as in many factories and service providing companies, whereas protecting equipment wasn’t distributed to employees.

More than 24 thousand people have signed an online petition signalling the increase in food prices and asking the authorities to take measures to protect the citizens. Meanwhile, on social networks people claim that they have observed an increase in prices for vegetables, fruits, dairy products, meat, hygiene products and disinfectants.

On the other hand, some Moldovan companies continue to help those who fight coronavirus nowadays. Businesses donate money to hospitals in the country, support educational project of developing online learning platforms, provide e-books for free, offer free psychological consultations for doctors, cosmetic producers focus all their resources to producing disinfectants.

Despite the losses they face during this period, several restaurants and food producing companies offer free food to doctors, taxi drivers bring doctors to work for free, young musicians organise live concerts online and groups of volunteers are organised to take care of their elderly neighbours by going to stores or pharmacies instead of them. Everyone who can afford it is advised to stay home.

See also: When facing hard times: Moldovans’ acts of kindness during the coronavirus outbreak

Photo: Adeolu Eletu |Unsplash

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