Monday, June 26, 2006

What Is the Future of Transportation in Chisinau?

Public transportation is one of the most serious problems in Chisinau. National experts agree with the problem, and apparently they agree with the solution. Recently, the City Council discussed the Roads & Transport Infrastructure Strategy. The document proposes approaching the current problem by unloading the most concentrated roads intersections, for example Stefan cel Mare Boulevard and its intersection with Ismail street. The Strategy proposes to achieve this by building bi-level intersections. New construction is to be heavily regulated around these areas. The main idea is to avoid construction of new roads in the central part of Chisinau, as such works are deemed very expensive. New roads are to be built between various districts of the city, which will significantly decrease the transit time, and will clear out the downtown. Regarding public transportation, trolleybuses and buses are given priority in the Strategy, while the marshrutkas will remain private means of transportation subject the supply/demand fluctuations. The cost of the Strategy is 3.47 billion MDL (over 250 million USD), of which 44.8% are expected from the municipal budget, 43.2% - national budget, 11.8% - grants, and 0.2% from private sources. The City Council accepted the Strategy as a basis for Chisinau transportation development but delayed the approval of the implementation plan until the City General Urban Plan is developed and approved. Main source: Economic Overview/Logos Press….

According to several experts’ opinions expressed in various issues of Moldova Urbana (a publication of Habitat Moldova Center, overall, this Strategy is not a bad one, and is most likely to find support in various circles. There were ideas about introducing a tramway (Alexandr Boldesco, Anatolii Gordeev). The future of the central part (both the historical and administrative) is the most debated topic among urban development specialists, architects and city management.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

What’s Up with State Companies in Moldova?

The number of state-owned companies in Moldova ranges from 356 to 465, according to different sources. Such companies include public utilities, educational institutions, healthcare facilities, and cultural institutions. Their financial situation and performance has been deteriorating over the last decades. Therefore, the Moldovan Parliament intends to introduce a new approach in state company management. The proposed piece of legislation intends to introduce basic corporate management principles such as transparent financial management and accountability. (See more here: )

However, the biggest challenge in implementing such a reform seems to be the obvious conflict of interest. The current management of state companies will have to change their quasi-transparent work habits overnight, which is very unlikely to happen. To enforce accountability and limit corruption, the plan is to have representatives from the Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Economy and Trade account for the majority of board membership. Therefore a major assumption is made: employees from these two ministries are exemplary enforcers of law, and are incorruptible. Unfortunatelly, this is a far-fetched assumption. Therefore, the question remains: Who will supervise the supervisor? My concern is that this piece of legislation, although apparently reformative, will fail to be implemented properly, and perpetuate the already anecdotally stagnant and reform-resistant governance in Moldova.

Friday, June 16, 2006

How Open is Moldovan Higher Education to Innovation?

I successfully completed the Muskie Program – a program designed to provide young professionals from the NIS countries with graduate American education and financed by US Department of State. I returned to Moldova, my home country, with the aim to find a job. Open Society Institute (OSI) – one of the organizations that co-sponsored this program offers the 2006 Muskie graduates an opportunity to apply for a grant to develop and teach a course in a higher education institution. At first this seems like a great idea. However, the truth is that the highly centralized system of higher education in Moldova is so rigid that teaching a new course to undergraduate or graduate students is almost impossible. All existing courses are part of an officially approved Course Plan, so introducing a new course is very difficult. Secondly, the existing courses are primarily being taught by PhD graduates, which is common everywhere. The competition for vacancies to teach these existing courses is fierce, which is again, very common, particularly in Europe.

This situation shows how difficult it is for innovative thinking (in the form of new, challenging, interdisciplinary courses) to get through and be accepted in the Moldova higher education system.

According to an article by Ralph Darendorf in Logos Press (16 June, 2006), European universities have several important weaknesses, such as conformity, limited diversity, freedom and accountability, a reduced level of ambition, high level of bureaucracy, and insufficient financing. Darendorf argues that the only way universities in Europe, Japan, Southern Korea, China and India can progress is to increase their level of flexibility and openness. I agree with this view, and based on my own experience, believe that Moldovan and Romanian universities could learn a lot from American universities by opening their doors for professionals like me who studied abroad and are willing to act as agents of change and innovation.