By Bejay Browne
PAPHOS urgently needs an injection of half a million euros within the next week or so or it will not be able to carry out preparations for its European capital of culture 2017 gig.
Even with this government promised cash – it is unclear now whether the Paphos of 2017 will be the same as the one portrayed in the award-winning bid book.
Paphos was officially awarded the title of European Capital of Culture in May, but a severe lack of funding has meant that virtually no progress has been made on the projects outlined in the towns winning bid.
Paphos Mayor Savvas Vergas acknowledged to the Cyprus Mail yesterday that the money needed to begin plans for the town was ‘nowhere to be seen’. “The government told us that they would give us €5m towards the project; with €500,000 in 2013 to start us on our way. We want to work on the programmes and other infrastructure that we need to do and we also need to start some events. Up to now, no funds have been forthcoming,” Vergas said.
A committee is in place which will oversee the entire project, headed by former Paphos-born former health minister Christos Patsalides.
“We (the committee) have tried to organise meetings with the shareholders – which are the municipalities of Paphos, Peyia and Yeroskipou – as we are waiting for them to honour their obligations. They have to make a financial contribution to enable us to start forming the infrastructure of the organization,” he said.
So far, he said, the committee has only received one payment of €50,000 from Paphos municipality, a cheque which cannot be banked yet due ongoing restrictions. The committee was still waiting for the other municipalities, he said.
But Patsalides remained upbeat, confident that the government was about to part with some cash. “We have had a meeting with the ministry of finance which assured us that they were willing to pay and support Paphos 2017 and next week we will meet with the minister of culture. I’m expecting the first payment from him, the €500,000 as promised,” said Patsalides.
Even though the mayor of Paphos has just publicly admitted that the cash isn’t yet in place to commence with 2017 projects, Cyprus Mail sources say this is nothing new.
The source who wished to remain anonymous due to the “sensitive nature” of the situation said: ”It’s not new news that the municipality doesn’t have enough money for 2017. A budget was submitted connected with the bid for the title. It was preliminarily approved. It showed an ideal scenario and was around €49 million. Everyone was aware that the crucial funding should come from Europe, and the big projects promoted through the municipalities of Paphos.”
The source said the recent crisis had changed that, and following the bailout conditions, the problems facing Paphos had become far more serious. The new town hall which is under construction is also facing major setbacks. Construction may be slowed down or work on it may be postponed for some time until funds become available to finish it.
In addition, Paphos is hoping to build a new theatre but this project has also hit problems.
“The idea is to build the new theatre on a piece of land close to the statue of Makarios,” said the source.
“The land is Turkish Cypriot owned and the minister of the interior agreed to the land being used to build a new theatre. In order to save money, an attempt to exchange land is being examined, but there are legal difficulties connected with this,” the source added.
“If this doesn’t come to fruition, the government has the legal right to start the process to appropriate the land. But this could be a lengthy and expensive process and I doubt a theatre would be built for 2017.”
The mayor agreed saying: “The theatre is a problem – we don’t have any money to build the theatre. This is the truth. We can’t get a loan from the banks – another problem – and we are now left with nothing.” There are a number of alternative solutions being examined for the opening in 2017- an outdoor auditorium for example. “Not having a new theatre is not the end of the world,” said the source.
Vergas said the banking crisis had made it impossible to find private companies to sponsor 2017.”We are hopeful and are looking for help from Europe through European programmes and others, with which we can use the title to take some money but until now we have found nothing,” he said.
The said Paphos was subject to a screening process and if a city makes absolutely no progress and is unable to materialise its vision, it could lose the title. Paphos shares the title with Aarhus in Denmark. It’s too early to comment on this but in the next two or three months we have to fight for Paphos,” said Vergas.
“We do have Plan B but it’s better to pursue our original plan to see the results. Then we will decide what action to take.”