Cyprus Mail
CM Regular ColumnistOpinion

The nature of the beast

By Hermes Solomon

SOON after the 1974 debacle, I returned to Cyprus to transfer savings from the Bank of Cyprus, Faneromeni branch to the one in London’s West End.

Back then, both branches were Dickensian in their methods by comparison to today’s sophisticated banking practises and standards. There was no air/con, computers, printers or reams of paper wasted to facilitate simple transactions. A triple receipt, hand written, was more like it – a savings deposit/withdrawal book the rule and few loans were issued sans credible and guaranteed collateral.

After ‘74, transferring money out/abroad required proving that your savings had come from ‘the outside’ in the first place – which I did with the help of a family member working ‘on the inside’.

During those frugal times there wasn’t much money in circulation; ‘show-off’ Anglo-Cypriots, who wore mohair suits, silk shirts and handmade shoes were few in number in the 35 degree heat of Ledra Street where, before the debacle, Barclays had a corner branch which they sold to the Bank of Cyprus, while HSBC stuck their nose in and then jumped out of Laiki when their men failed to gain control of the board; world renowned banks choosing to ‘get rid’ at a profit, having little faith in the future of the island’s banks, and more particularly, in our disingenuous politicians, ‘bent’ bank board members and directors.

How many B of C branches existed in Nicosia in 1974? Apart from the HQ at Faneromeni, I can recall a small corner branch on Athalassa Avenue. Now there are hundreds with the equivalent number of Laiki branches, which jealously sprouted in competition; so many that by 2005, the golden era of Cyprus banks, there were more banks than loan-free customers.

A thousand jobs are expected to be lost at the Bank of Cyprus/Laiki by September. A further thousand should be gone by Christmas. Together, both banks employ a total of five and half thousand staff.

If lenders are not repaying loans and borrowing is minimal, reduced workloads will leave bank employees twiddling their thumbs. In other words, once depositors have withdrawn what cash remains in their deposit/current accounts, queues will disappear and counter clerks will end up staring at the ceiling. Cyprus will return to being a ‘cash in hand’ economy like it was prior to 1974 – bulging trouser pockets of the few, especially those wearing mohair suits.

And just how many employees will the ‘new’ Bank of Cyprus require to run their ‘piggy banks’? We all know the answer – 42!

Then who gets the chop, the counter clerk, (in this case, Sophie) with a 300-square metre new-build in Tseri, hubby, two kids and 250,000 euro mortgage, car loan and overdraft at especially low interest rates, or will it be highly paid managers and their assistants whether close to retirement age or not?

Sophie studied graphic design at Middlesex, returned to Cyprus eight years ago, couldn’t find a job in her chosen field and, as a last resort, became a bank clerk with the help of someone ‘on the inside’. She hates the job, and frankly it shows. She is allergic to the air/con blowing onto the back of her neck all day. It causes inexplicable ailments and a reason to take too much time off. She is a sensitive gal and only mildly worried that she might be obliged to accept a few grand and fired with no future prospects of ever finding another job.

You see, Sophie can pull strings and expects Georgia at the adjacent counter, who loves her job and is extremely efficient, healthy and good at everything she does, to be given the chop instead.

But who will submissively accept early retirement, having mortgaged their family’s future to the hilt in return for job security for life, a fat bonus and retirement pension? Nobody! Boy, haven’t the Bank of Cyprus and their lackeys got a problem! This Megaton will explode in September and the fall-out will infect all bank employees by November.

The in-fighting has already begun surreptitiously – not me, but her for the chop!! And when it reaches fever pitch, you can expect another collapse of our banking system.

The troika is powerless to avert this outcome whether they insist on memorandum demands being followed to the letter or not. The Sophies and her cohorts ‘on the inside’ will sidestep dismissal at the expense of the competent.

Cyprus commerce, industry, govt. and the civil service has always operated on the premise of who you know and not what you know.

A then 73-year-old former minister of defence, bedevilled with angina, should never have been allowed to assist (among many others) an equally unhealthy and indecisive former president in the destruction of Mari/Vassiliko, causing the loss of 13 lives and serious damage to thousands of nearby homes and families. Such disasters are caused by blindness to reality, we permitting the incompetent to rule the indifferent.

The Mari/Vassiliko devastation, CyTA land corruption deal at Dromolaxia, destruction of our economy by bent bankers, unresolved Helios disaster, Cyprob, Cyprus Airways perpetual bankruptcy, title deeds scandal, criminally overstaffed and inefficient civil service, ‘mizes’ and ‘ta messa’ all collectively contributed to the downfall of the Cyprus Republic after just 53 years of existence. Nobody can deny complicity. We all knew what was going on…especially the man in the mohair suit.

All we have left is a distant hope of hydrocarbon wealth. But the price of natural gas falls daily on world commodity markets due to the US merciless fracking of their homeland in an effort to become self sufficient in gas and oil by 2020, and in the process destroying their countryside and environment.

There are greedy Faustian fools everywhere, not just in Cyprus where, last Tuesday, the word ‘accountability’ was deleted from the dictionary by the Attorney-general, who will soon retire, meriting his place in hell alongside his paymaster.

Thank God for men like Polis Polyviou, and women like Auditor-general,  Chrystalla Georghadji and former Ombudswoman, Iliana Nicolaou… glimmers of hope and eventual justice on this bedevilled island.

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