By Poly Pantelides
LOOKING straight at the leaders of the major parties of the indebted island of Cyprus, Nicos Georgiou, a retired civil servant told them yesterday to “just sort it out”.
“Leave politics aside. Find a solution to our financial problems,” he told the head of the ruling party DISY Averof Neophytou and his opposition AKEL counterpart, Andros Kyprianou, whose candidate was outvoted during February’s presidential elections.
The two men and prominent Greek economist Vassilis Rapanos were yesterday invited at the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, KEVE, in Nicosia to propose how Cyprus could exit the financial crisis. The event was organised by KEVE and OPEK, the association for social reform whose self-proclaimed goal is to push open, transparent, and pluralistic conversations on a civil society level.
Rapanos, the outlier in the group, focused on his experience with Greece and the lessons Greece’s bailout programme could offer Cyprus, the latest EU member-state to be bailed out by the EU and the IMF back in March.
He told Cypriot politicians to work together. “We disagree on everything in Greece,” Rapanos said. “Unfortunately, political divisions are so pronounced there is no prospect of consensus on even the most basic things.”
But Rapanos told the Cypriot politicians the political landscape in Cyprus was different and the country could exit the crisis much sooner, if they agreed to agree.
But Neophytou and Kyprianou agreed to disagree when discussing the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) agreed with Cyprus’ lenders, and particularly mooted privatisation plans of semi government companies to gather funds, and arguably increase competitiveness by transferring resources to the private sector.
Kyprianou said there was a conspiracy to vilify the state sector for the sake of arguing its resources must be snatched away.
“No one else will lend us money so we have no choice but to stick to the bailout plan – go beyond it even,” said Neophytou.
“Restructure the semi state companies but don’t sell them,” said Kyprianou. But Neophytou countered that privatisations would give consumers a cheaper product through increased competitiveness.
Though they did make other points, those were lost in the bigger impression they created: that of belonging to two different schools of thought, promoting their own perspectives. Neophytou said that Cypriots across the board had learned to live beyond their means and now had to adjust. Kyprianou said austerity was destroying people’s way of life.
One way of life that does seem to have been destroyed is people’s faith in the major players of government and politics. The European Commission’s opinion polls show that only one in ten Cypriots now trust political parties, and less than a third trust the government.
People did trust both politicians and the government in their majority in early 2008, soon after AKEL took over as government. Now they trust neither DISY nor AKEL, and Georgiou, the retired civil servant told both parties’ representatives he did not want to have any great-grandchildren “with all these problems”.
“Appearances are very important,” Rapanos said. “It doesn’t matter if the reality is different, people’s perceptions is what matters.”