Vehicles registered in the Transnistrian region are non-grata. Commentary by Info-Prim Neo

Last week, the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Moldova announced the launch of a broad campaign for seizing the number plates of the cars registered in the breakaway region of Transnistria, but driven by people residing on the territory controlled by the Chisinau authorities. The traffic police have seized 2,000 plates so far and checked about 6,000 cars with Transnistrian registration numbers. Some 4,000 cars of these were driven by Moldovans residing on the right bank of the Nistru. Among the reasons invoked for launching such a campaign are the non-compliance of the number plates with the national norms adjusted to the international standards and the fact that the transport means registered on the left bank of the Nistru cannot be checked by Interpol in cases of thefts. On the one hand, the Government’s intentions to regulate such an important and dynamic sector must be supported. On the other hand, the state should make sure that the measures designed to adjust the conditions to the national and international norms do not generate illegalities or even a considerable negative social impact. [Selection or discrimination?] The Government was mentioned above not only because it has to deal with a corresponding interpellation addressed to it by the Parliament at one of its last meetings from the previous session, and as it looks the police are preparing a certain answer; not because it is responsible for all the actions taken by its divisions, but also because nobody can imagine that the police took measures in such a sensitive area as the Transnistrian conflict without the approval of the Government or of some inferior organizations. Anyway, the police’s actions arouse questions and even concerns. First of all, the police confiscate only the plates of the cars driven by persons residing on the right bank of the Nistru, that is citizens with legal documents and residence permits. Therefore, the plates are seized in a selective way, which can be also named discriminatory. One of the dangerous conclusions for the Government, but also for the country, could be: it is better to reside outside the area controlled by the constitutional authorities because the secessionist regimes defend the citizen’s interests better. [Myopia or challenge?] According to the information provided by the Ministry of Internal Affairs last week, there was set up a working group that will draft a bill that will stipulate the conditions of reregistering the respective means of transport. Until then, the police assured they will continue to seize the plates with “non-standard” registration numbers. If they announce that a bill is being worked out, they admit indirectly that there is no legal framework for such actions. It seems that the only criterion used by the police is the place of residence of the car owner. But, as far as it is known, the issuing of residence permits in Moldova was cancelled as this is considered a norm that violates the constitutional rights of the citizen, including the right to free movement. In such conditions, we can say that last week Moldova had 2,000 new cases in the ECHR that can be considered already lost. The enthusiasm of the police can very quickly bring this number to tens of thousands. Where does this haste come from? Why didn’t they wait until the bill was adopted? In fact, there was no need to wait for so long because such a bill already exists and it is hard to imagine that the Interior Ministry did not know about this. Some experts bill such an action as habit, while others consider that the start of such actions and the launch by a former presidential adviser of the initiative regarding the decoupling of the Transnistrian region from Moldova with the aim of accelerating Moldova’s integration into the EU cannot be a simple coincidence. Some of these questions and opinions will probably find an answer or confirmation later. The others have clear answers even now, if we look at the issue from the angle of the current or future legislation. [Causes of such a situation] Analyst Igor Gutan considers that the practice of registering the vehicles in the Transnistrian region arouse from the state’s policy. The excises that the car importers must pay on the right bank of the Nistru are twice larger than on the left bank of the Nistru. Also, the Moldovan residents cannot register the cars that are older than seven years. The excises vary between 0.3 Euro/cm3 (for vehicles with an engine capacity of up to 1,000 cm3) and 1.60 Euro/cm3 (for vehicles with a capacity of over 3,000 cm3), plus taxes whose size depends on the age of the car. To avoid or diminish these payments, the owners register the vehicles with Transnistrian authorities. It is hard to assess the damage caused to the state budget, but it can be estimated at about 200 mln lei a year as a result of not levying excises and at approximately 20 mln lei as a result of not levying the tax for road use. Igor Gutan supports the Government in its efforts to obtain a clear picture of the situation regarding the number of cars registered in the eastern districts, including by reducing the number of unidentified cars that disappeared from the place of accidents, but warns of serious dangers concerning the protection of human rights. [The confiscation of plates is a violation of the right to property] According to Gutan, even if the registration of vehicles in the Transnistrian region is illegal, the police must act within the law. The confiscation of number plates is a violation of the right to property, which is protected by the Constitution of the Republic of Moldova and by the international law norms. The police do not have such a right. What it can do in such cases is to apply article 120, paragraph (3) of the Code of Administrative Contraventions, which provides fines of 20 to 60 lei for the use of means of transport registered not according to rules. [Car owners will be obliged to pay excises at internal customs posts, but according to the law] The present legislation says that the excises must be paid to the customs authority from the border crossing point. The law does not regulate the payment of excises if the vehicles were brought into the country through the eastern region. This is an evident legal omission that must have been removed long ago. That’s why the Government put forward an initiative that will enable to pay the excise duties at the internal customs posts and to register the cars older than seven years with the relevant Moldovan authorities. The initiative took the form of a bill that will supplement article 4 of the law on the implementation of chapter IV of the Fiscal Code No.1054-XIV of June 16, 2000. The proposed amendment will enable the owners to reregister the cars registered in the Transnistrian region with the relevant Moldovan authority. If the bill is passed by the Parliament, the residents of Moldova that own or use vehicles registered on the left bank of the Nistru under mandate will pay the excises according to the quota used when passing the internal customs posts. The taxes for the vehicles that will pass through the internal customs posts before the law takes effect could be paid within 60 days of the date when the law enters into force. The relevant excise quota will be applied only when the cars are not older than seven years. [Solution for cars that have been used for a longer period of time] Igor Gutan says that the bill provides for the registration of the cars that are older than seven years with the relevant Moldovan authority. In such a way, the owners of cars aged between seven and ten will have to pay a double tax, while the owners of cars older than 10 years will pay a triple tax. In both cases, the size of the excise duty set for vehicles aged between five and seven will serve as reference value. The residents of Moldova that own or use vehicles registered in Transnistria under mandate will not have such a right. This bill will provide a better solution than the one used by the state bodies illegally. The new stipulations will allow the citizens to register their cars with the relevant Moldovan authorities. [Legal framework for paying excises] Since we do not have a law that provides punishment for the non-payment of excises and taxes for using the road, the Code of Administrative Contraventions will also be amended so that the persons that registered the cars in the Transnistrian region and do not have a residence permit in the given region will pay a fine of 500 to 800 lei for not paying excises and/or the tax for using the road, analyst Igor Gutan says. If everything can be done according to the law, why should we commit illegalities?