In a stunning new victory for Romania’s beloved prime minister Victor ‘Copy Paste’ Ponta in his neverending quest to find new ways of wasting the taxpayer’s money, we read with not a little outrage yesterday that he had handed a whopping €8.19 million to those needy people over at, ahem, Vodafone. (Yes, the same Vodafone which made a post-tax profit of €74.6 billion last year and whose CEO took a salary of €11.8 million).
Isn’t it nice to know that our money is going to such worthy causes? After all, schools and hospitals in Romania have all the money they need, so why not hand a few million over to a foreign-owned company like Vodafone?
The details of the government’s hand-out came during the opening of a new Vodafone ‘Service Centre’ (call centre) in Bucharest to serve various markets, including the UK.
Ponta, present at the opening along with Vodafone Romania’s new boss Ravinder Takkar, said that the state aid had been awarded ‘in order to create jobs’: up to 600 people already work at the call centre, with vague promises that as many as 2000 will eventually be employed there. While Takkar added that Vodafone’s decision to open the call centre in Romania had not been based on Ponta’s €8.19 million sweetener, we are inclined to think that the cash couldn’t have hurt, especially as the total investment in the call centre was just €6.52 million.
Now, leaving aside the subject of state aid and whether or not the €8.19 million is money well spent, what we find most telling about this affair is the total lack of interest shown in it by the local press, who have in the main simply reproduced the Vodafone press release word for word. Usually, any excuse to bash the government is gratefully accepted by the television stations, newspapers, websites and blogs opposed to Ponta. He has been hauled over the coals for far less.
What’s different of course is the subject. Vodafone is one of the biggest (if not the biggest) buyers of advertising space in Romania, across all platforms. It also finances much of the so-called Romanian blogosphere via a number of events it sponsors (at which the country’s high-profile bloggers appear in order to boost their profiles). As such, Vodafone is more or less bulletproof. The same goes for Orange, Petrom and a handful of other huge companies: given that they pay the bills they are immune from criticism. It’s a shame.
A couple of other bits of news have caught of eye over the past few days, as we catch up with events in Romania following our return from holiday.
Firstly, the noose appears to finally be tightening around the neck of Dan Voiculescu, the former Securitate informer and boss of Intact Media which owns the Antena 1 and Antena 3 TV stations, alongside numerous over holdings. Voiculescu was sentenced to five years in prison in September 2013 for corruption, but remained free pending an appeal. That appeal has been continually delayed by Voiculescu’s lawyers in the hope of dragging the case beyond its six year statute of limitations in December (the case has been ongoing since 2008).
A hearing on Tuesday however rejected all of Voiculescu’s new requests for a delay, and the appeal will now finally be heard on July 8th: next Tuesday. Voiculescu’s assets have in the meantime been frozen.
Secondly, we had to laugh when we read that Romanian football fans will have to pay 10 lei per month to watch Liga 1 football this season. What’s more, only one cable operator – UPC – is offering the package. The others have simply dropped the channel which will show games (Look TV). We predict a take-up rate of almost zero: who will pay to watch the nonsense that passes as first division football in Romania?