Justice minister Ionas Nicolaou presented two bills to combat corruption on Thursday. The first will establish the independent Anti-Corruption Authority that will investigate the actions and decisions of the broader public sector in an attempt to clamp down on all illicit dealings.
The second bill, titled ‘On Transparency of Procedures for Taking Public Decisions and Related Matters Law’, was drafted at the behest of the Council of Europe’s anti-corruption body Greco and aims to regulate the issue of lobbying. The anti-corruption authority will be in charge of implementing the law by setting up a register for every individual or company, involved in these decisions, to state the interest groups they represent.
For example, if the law is enforced, the scandal involving Enviroplan, which cost the taxpayer millions which we are still paying, may have been averted. This company was hired by the government to provide consultancy services regarding waste treatment and the tenders’ specs it drafted were tailor-made for the Greek company Helector, which landed two contracts – one in Koshi and one in Paphos. Helector was not only using old technology but it was also overcharging the state.
As if this were not bad enough, Enviroplan was also responsible for drafting the specs for a treatment plant that would turn domestic waste into fuel. Again, the specs were designed so that Helector would win the contract, but suspicions were raised among some technocrats and the procedure was opened up so that more companies could make bids. Would these bad and costly decisions have been avoided if the law on transparency presented by Nicolaou on Thursday had been in force back then? It would not have made the slightest difference, because Enviroplan would not have mentioned its links to Helector.
Perhaps it would have given a legal instrument to an honest technocrat to expose the dishonesty. Then again, an alert and honest technocrat could have stopped the shady dealing under the existing legislation, without the need for a new bill. In the case of Helector, the Tassos Papadopoulos government gave the go-ahead, despite serious reservations being expressed by the auditor-general at the time.
In other words, we can pass dozens of anti-corruption laws, but if the political leadership does not have the political will to tackle corruption nothing will change. It suffices to say that, almost 20 years ago, the Clerides government passed a law making nepotism a criminal offence and nobody has ever been charged. And this is not because nepotism has miraculously disappeared from public life in the last 20 years. We can only hope that Nicolaou’s anti-corruption laws will not be as ineffective as law aimed at combating nepotism.