By Elias Hazou
THE HOUSE yesterday passed a generic law limiting the use of limos to a handful of state and public officials, but left it to the government to spell out the restrictions at a later date.
The law stipulates that the following are entitled to unlimited, round-the-clock use of limos: the President of the Republic, the House Speaker, the chief justice of the Supreme Court, the Attorney-general, the deputy Attorney-general and the auditor-general.
Also eligible are all former Presidents of the Republic and House Speakers, who incidentally will continue receiving a secretarial allowance.
Ineligible for unlimited use of limos are those former Presidents and House Speakers who have served less than 30 months in office.
But given that the term of office for Presidents and House Speakers alike is five years (60 months), this stipulation is effectively rendered meaningless. The likelihood of a President resigning or being impeached, and therefore not serving out his or her full term, is virtually zero. House Speakers could potentially serve less than 30 months due to reshuffles in the House of Representatives. But both present Speaker Yiannakis Omirou and his predecessor Marios Garoyian (who served 39 months) are safe.
Other state officials will continue enjoying the limo perk, but their travel in luxury vehicles will be limited to ‘official use’. They will be chauffeured around not to go to work, but to official functions only.
Such officials include ministers, commissioners, mayors and bosses at semi-state enterprises.
The restrictions on use of limos by these officials are to be fleshed out by the government.
It had taken lawmakers months to ante up and vote on the bill, yet even now they’re kicking the can down the road: the law does not take effect immediately, but rather as of July 1, ostensibly to give the government time to hammer out the relevant regulations.
In a bid to cut the cost to the taxpayer, it’s understood that the coming regulations will limit the engine size of all limos purchased in the future to 2,000cc, and the vehicles’ carbon dioxide emissions must be restricted to 165 g/km. The President’s limo is exempted from these two constraints.
Yesterday’s legislation passed with 49 votes in favour, with the Greens and the Citizens’ Alliance abstaining.
An amendment filed by opposition AKEL, seeking to remove the deputy Attorney-general and auditor-general from the list of officials entitled to unlimited use of limos, was defeated by a combined force of DISY, DIKO, EDEK and the European Party. A proposal by the Greens to deny the perk to former Presidents was also beaten back.
Speaking at the plenum, AKEL deputy Yiannos Lamaris, pointed out that the Constitution explicitly reserves the right to service vehicles (limos) to the President, the House Speaker, the Attorney-general and the Supreme Court chief justice.
DIKO’s Nicholas Papadopoulos and DISY’s Prodromos Prodromou opined that the law puts a stop to the abuse of the benefit.
Also yesterday, the plenum passed a law establishing a ‘solidarity fund’. It’s an amended version of an earlier legislative proposal which had passed parliamentary muster in December but which the President subsequently refused to sign, returning the item to the House.
Under the amended bill, the government has control over the running of the fund, whose aim is to bolster government programmes on employment and social cohesion.
However the government must inform the House finance committee in advance of any expenditures made from the fund’s proceeds.
According to the wording, the funds will come from “contributions during the year 2014, from state grants, donations and/or contributions by any person and from any other source and/or legitimate activity.”
Meanwhile a ‘temporary contribution’, introduced more than a year ago by the previous administration, is still being deducted from paychecks of those earning in excess of €1,200 a month.