THE DISGRACED, former president Demetris Christofias will appear before the investigative committee for the economy on Thursday. It came as no surprise that he wrote to the committee asking for his appearance to be postponed on the grounds that his associates, who would help prepare his answers, were away on holiday. Delaying things has always been his style, as we all know, but he had no luck this time. The committee turned down his request.
His associates would have had to cut short their holidays to help him prepare his defence of the indefensible. What defence can there be for doing nothing to avert the looming disaster, despite countless warnings from every direction? What defence can there be for misguided decisions that made a bad situation 10 times worse? What defence can there be for orchestrating a campaign to destroy the banking sector? What defence can there be for putting the narrow political interests of AKEL above the country’s?
We hope the three judges on the panel give him a torrid time and resist the temptation to show deference just because he was once president. The criminal negligence of his rule needs to be exposed by the committee, because there is a risk that people will soon forget the devastation and misery he caused the country. AKEL’s propaganda machinery has been working methodically to whitewash Christofias, disconnecting his rule from the disastrous chain of events that he set in motion and which unfolded after his departure from office.
Last Monday, responding to an attack on Christofias by the Archbishop, AKEL deputy Stavros Evagorou urged the primate to direct his anger at President Anastasiades as he was the man who “accepted the closure of Laiki, the haircut of deposits, the scrapping of convertible bonds, the zeroing of (bank) shares, the fire-sale of the Cypriot banks’ branches in Greece and much more”. The collapsing economy that required assistance to avoid bankruptcy, according to AKEL’s propagandists, simply appeared out of the blue and only after Anastasiades took over as president.
The previous five years, during which the Cyprus Republic was excluded from the markets, government bonds were classed as junk, the public debt doubled, the budget deficit increased by a billion euros and Laiki was kept afloat at a cost of €9 billion (a loan that was passed on to the Bank of Cyprus making its survival more difficult), had nothing to do with our current woes, we are meant to believe. Even the banks’ serious problems were exacerbated by AKEL’s and Christofias’ relentless attacks on the banking sector, leading to a flight of capital long before the Eurogroup meetings.
The panel should focus their questions on Christofias’ negligence. Why had he not applied for assistance in May 2011 when Cyprus was excluded from the markets? All other countries (Ireland, Portugal, Greece) applied within three to four weeks of being excluded, but it took Cyprus more than a year. Why had he not tried to secure protection for the Cyprus banks when the Greek PSI was finalised by the EU leaders in October 2011? Why in May 2012 had he vetoed the spending cuts his finance minister had promised the Eurogroup the government would take? And why, once he applied for a bailout in June 2012, did he engage in filibustering, despite the exhortations of many senior EU officials to agree a memorandum as soon as possible?
He agreed, in principle to the memorandum in November, when the ECB threatened to stop the provision of ELA to Laiki, but by then it was too late to salvage anything. Being a crass populist, he still boasted that he had saved CoLA and the 13th salaries of public employees in the negotiations with the troika. Christofias was scoring cheap political points, while the country was in meltdown.
The investigative committee would do the country a big service, if it exposed Christofias’ criminal irresponsibility, negligence and destructive populism through its questions. If the judges do this, support may build for the former president’s prosecution on charges of criminal negligence and gross dereliction of duty. It may create political momentum for the amendment of the constitution that gives immunity to former presidents, with regard to actions taken during their term.
We know this is a tall order, but when a president causes as much devastation and long term harm to a country as Christofias has done through his negligence and irresponsibility, the state must be able to initiate court proceedings against him and, if found guilty, send him to prison. Justice must have a say over the political crimes committed by Christofias.