In theory, rationality should always be at the centre of government decisions and policy-making. In practice, however, this is not always the case as the government’s decision to purchase two gunboats illustrates. When it comes to defence matters rationality is, more often than not, suspended because the entire political establishment embraces the idea that all defence spending is intrinsically good. So deeply-rooted is this idea, that very few would dare challenge it.
In the case of the gunboats, which would cost the taxpayers some €100 million, DISY, to its credit, has blocked the transaction, but only temporarily. Its line was that the proposed purchase could be re-examined a few months into 2014, when there was a better picture of how the economy was going. It was wrong to approve an arms purchase at a time when so many people were unable or struggling to make ends meet its deputies have argued.
It stopped short of declaring the proposed purchase an irrational and needless waste of funds, because then it would be accused of not preventing the strengthening of Cyprus’ defence capability, which everyone supports. Even its half-baked suggestion for a ‘wait and see’ approach was slammed by other parties, including AKEL, which subsequently had a change of heart, presumably because it felt there would be no political cost, and tacitly backed DISY.
The truth is there is not a single rational argument to justify this waste of money we do not have. No military expertise is required to know that two lightly-armed gunboats cannot protect hydrocarbon exploration in our Exclusive Economic Zone in the event that the Turks decided to attack it, so the main reason for buying them is invalid. Government sources have also claimed that the purchase would help us maintain good relations with Israel, as if Israel’s allegiance could be bought, or strategic objectives changed, by €100m purchase.
The only argument that DISY had used against this expenditure was that it would be a provocation at a time when families were struggling. There is another more compelling argument that nobody mentioned. Apart from the illiquid banks, next year there will be €700m less money in the economy because of the government’s spending cuts. How stupidly irresponsible would it be to withdraw an additional €100m from the economy at this time and transfer it to Israel, for gunboats we do not need. The economy would benefit much more if the amount was distributed among the unemployed (they could be given community work to do) because they would at least spend it in Cyprus thus benefiting the economy, in a small way.
If rationality featured in government decision-making, the idea of buying two gunboats at this time – or any time for that matter – would never have made it to the agenda of the Council of Ministers. Unfortunately, it does not, and DISY had to intervene to block this waste of money, at least temporarily.