Advancing homegrown AI: Five minutes with Mihai Cuza from Romania’s Ministry of Finance

By on 03/06/2024 | Updated on 04/06/2024

In this interview, Mihai Cuza, public manager, ECOFIN and Financial Assistance General Directorate, Ministry of Finance, Romania, shares his ideas for civil service reform and outlines Romania’s pioneering AI research and development initiative.

This is part of a ‘Five minutes’ series featuring participants from this week’s Global Government Finance Summit in Dublin (5-6 June). 

What are you most interested in discussing at the Global Government Finance Summit 2024?

For me and for my field of activity, digitisation and technology are a double-edged sword: on the one hand, there is the need to automate repetitive and standardised processes, and on the other hand, there is the need to maintain managerial responsibility for each process.

In this dynamic between what is standard and what is specific, digitisation offers safety and speed at the price of some lack of flexibility and human accountability. Learning about how the administrations of different countries have succeeded or intend to cross this narrow path is my main interest related to the event.

Secondly, getting to know and listening to our colleagues is an excellent way to create a human network, more fundamental than electronic networks.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given in your working life?  

“Don’t make assumptions”. In a job based to a large extent on stable contexts, routine and inertia are natural. It happened to me in my younger years to circulate insufficiently verified information or to rely on processes that are subject to change.  

The discipline of avoiding assumptions taught me to ask myself more often “why?” and “how do we know?” and “how can we prove this?”. This reflex, exercised in moderation (because a paranoid approach is not advisable and is maybe even worse) protected me from many mistakes and opened many perspectives for me over time.

Read more: Ireland hosts public sector pioneers in Dublin for third Fintech Lab

What advice would you give someone starting out in the civil service? 

Respect the law and the hierarchy but work with the citizen in mind. The rule of law and administrative procedures are the best ways to ensure that, in general, the government serves society in the best possible way. However, they are means, not ends. Considering the interests of the citizen as the goals of your work makes a fundamental quality difference in your professional orientation in the long run.

If you could introduce one civil service reform, what would it be?  

I would like to at least assist if not contribute to the transition from a hierarchical, mechanistic, automatist bureaucracy to a public service closer to what is called an organic hierarchy, or network culture.

I don’t think this could be done in a revolutionary way, but naturally, along with changes in society. In this context, if I could personally introduce a reform in the public service, it would be related to personnel selection. At the present time, at least in Romania, this is a typical approach for the industrial society, based exclusively on a set of information memorised from normative acts. This method of selection defeats on so many levels the purpose of public servants that I think a reform will come anyway, with the disappearance of the blockages in the system.

Which civil servant – past or present – do you most admire and why? 

It might seem like an answer that avoids the question, but for me it feels important to say that the ideal civil servant is that unsung hero of whom nothing else is known except that he continued to do his job well for years in a row. Unlike those known for important or risky decisions, or for special leadership in difficult times – totally admirable by the way – my model civil servant is not the one who does great things, but the one who succeeds, with the same enthusiasm for his beneficiaries, to complete their daily tasks as if they were great.

Which country’s civil service or which government department or agency are you most inspired by and why? 

I studied public service and did my internship in the UK. The British administrative model has many elements that can massively inspire an administration like the Romanian one, the first of which is the way of thinking in terms of policies rather than laws.

Can you name one lesson or idea from abroad that’s helped you and your colleagues?  

The idea of ​​proactive communication with the public was very inspirational for us. In the Romanian traditional model of administration, communication was in the past at the level of an obligation to make some information available to the public, somewhere. According to the principle that ignorance of the law does not excuse its violation, the public is considered obliged to find out what the public service communicates in the way it alone chooses to communicate.

My department, among other things, coordinates at national level the grants from Switzerland for the EU. Constructing a team and then a network of communicators to proactively put key messages forward was a game changer.

Read more: How Romania is using digital government to engage its diaspora communities

Are there any projects or innovations in your country that might be valuable to your peers overseas?  

Romania will have an Artificial Intelligence Research Institute through which it will be able to develop its own technological solutions, collaborate with international partners and train top specialists in the field. The Minister of Finance participated in the official inauguration and, personally, I hope that it will become a landmark, including in the future of public administration.

Which three famous people, alive or dead, would you most like to invite to a dinner party?  

I would invite Mark Twain for a sparkling juicy conversation with subtle and irrepressible humour, Diana, Princess of Wales, for unique and special stories and for an amazing presence, and also Audrey Hepburn for all of the above and anything in between.

Do you have any unusual hobbies?  

I am a chess enthusiast. I like playing online at beginner level, as well as following the games of grandmasters whenever I have the opportunity. Chess, for me, has close to nothing to do with intelligence, but is an opportunity to meet another mind in an emotional game of decisions.

What was the first piece of music you bought?   

Back in Black – the LP of AC/DC. To this day, I have that groove as my ringtone, especially since the meaning of the expression “back in black”, at least for a finance person, has the most optimistic sound.

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One Comment

  1. Paula says:

    The suggested civil service reform is already being implemented, in accordance with the Administrative Code and as a result of the efforts of the National Agency for Civil Servants. Recruitment via the national competition is no longer based on memorisation.

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