PRESIDENT Anastasiades is making a big mistake in granting audiences to a variety of interest groups that are making demands of the state. He probably believes that this practice shows him to be an accessible president interested in helping solve problems and while this may be good for his popularity rating it does not reflect very positively on the state or state services.
In a well-functioning state with solid institutions, the president should have no need to act as a mediator or facilitator in disputes that organised groups have with the authorities. There are laws as well as rules and procedures that should determine the decisions taken by the technocrats at state services without the need for the president to become involved, as is the practice in Cyprus.
All presidents have engaged in this practice, primarily because it is good for their public image, appearing like benevolent monarchs who dispense favours, over-rule their ministers and secure social harmony. This is how things are done in politically backward countries in which there is little or no respect for state institutions and the law. The president is perceived to be above the law and in a position to satisfy even the most unreasonable demand.
On Monday, Anastasiades met the representatives of the Association of Laiki Depositors (Sykala), who wanted to present proposals by which they would recover the money they had lost in the collapse of the bank. Their main proposal is that future state revenue from the sale of natural gas would go to Laiki depositors to cover their losses.
This was presented as a perfectly reasonable proposal, details of which Sykala would convey to the finance minister, it was reported. The president was in a difficult spot, because he could not tell the delegation that this was an absurd suggestion that would open the way for the Bank of Cyprus depositors, who were bailed-in, to make a similar demand. But there is no law that would justify such an arrangement which is why Sykala visited the president seeking special treatment.
Not so long ago, the president was also visited by the big developers who stand to lose the security for bank loans they were not repaying. Why had they gone to him, given that the president has no authority to interfere in how a bank conducts its business – there are contracts, laws and procedures – and protects its interests. We do not know what the president told them or the proposals they made, but what we do know is that the president should avoid any involvement in such disputes.
The president is elected to provide leadership, offer policy directives and run a government. Meeting interest groups, seeking special treatment from the state is not a constitutional responsibility of the president and Anastasiades would do well to remember this, for his own good.