NINETY-NINE per cent of Cypriots believe that the political parties are corrupt, according to a survey carried out by Transparency International. Deputies fared slightly better, with 95 per cent of respondents considering them corrupt. This perception is a damning indictment of our political system, but not unexpected when we consider that much of the petty corruption, sponsored by the political parties, takes place openly and nobody questions or condemns it.
For instance the distribution of the spoils of power among the supporters of a newly-elected president has become as much of a tradition as the address of parliament. It happens every time there is a new president who, needless to say, pledged to eradicate corruption and introduce meritocracy in the election campaign. In Cyprus, appointing or promoting ‘your people’ is considered meritocracy by the government and ‘rusfeti’ by the opposition party, but it has always been the standard practice.
Sadly, corruption is the foundation of our political system, with the political parties behaving like mafia families that offer protection to their members and supporters. Party membership – or protection – helps the career advancement of state employees, offers public sector jobs to individuals, provides insider information to land speculators, allows businessmen to secure state contracts and facilitates a citizen’s dealings with the state. By offering protection and favours the parties hold on to and expand their support.
Most of the factors that encourage systemic corruption are evident – discretionary powers, monopolistic powers, lack of transparency and a culture of impunity. It was no surprise to hear recently that the law, regarding the extradition of Cypriot citizens, was amended in 2005 so it would not cover offences committed before we joined the EU in 2004, with the intention of protecting specific individuals. The law was changed on Thursday, after a public outcry, but it nevertheless showed that 95 per cent of people were right to consider deputies corrupt.
These are after all the politicians who have voted themselves exorbitant remuneration packages, exempted half their pay from income tax and use the allowances they receive for secretarial services as part of the income to calculate their state pensions; deputies also receive retirement bonuses, after 10 years’ of service equivalent to what public employees receive for 30 years’ service. Should it also be mentioned that half the deputies are lawyers and use their positions to build their practice? Some have also been known to draft laws that benefit their clients.
In these conditions what are the chances of combating the endemic corruption that our hypocritical politicians often complain about? The obvious answer is legislation, but when deputies pass anti-corruption laws they are not enforced. Nepotism was made a criminal offence more than 10 years ago, but in the last decade nobody has been charged. Was this because there has been no nepotism? For years now, the political parties have been coming up with excuses not to approve a law that would oblige them to list the names of their donors and amounts paid, less their dependences are exposed.
Transparency would certainly reduce corruption but what party would support legislation that would make it an obligation? In fact it is naive to think that political parties would ever pass any legislation that would limit their scope for corruption and reduce their hold over citizens. How would they attract new voters if they could not promise them favours? Taking a hard line on the Cyprus problem is not half as effective as the promise of rusfeti, when it comes to winning votes.
The media could play a role in fighting corruption by reporting scandals, exposing graft and campaigning for laws on transparency, which they have done to an extent. Then again, people seem to think that the media are as much part of the problem as the political parties; 93per cent of respondents in Transparency International’s survey believed the media were corrupt.
The question is why do the people who see corruption everywhere do nothing to stop it? The survey asked people why they would not report cases of corruption and half said it would make no difference while the other half said they were worried about the consequences.
But does the fact the 95 per cent of people were not prepared to report corruption suggest that they are happy to live with it and benefit from it when they can? If people want anything to change they need to take responsibility, reporting case and demanding action. It is no good everyone complaining about corruption, when they are not prepared to do anything about it, especially when they know that the political parties would never deal with the problem.