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Our View: Nearly one year in, Anastasiades has been a big disappointment

Anastasiades on election day last year

THIS NEWSPAPER had placed great hope on the election of Nicos Anastasiades to the presidency. We believed that he would provide the decisive and strong leadership the country was crying out for after the five years of Christofias incompetence that bankrupted the state and led to the collapse of the banking sector. We had thought that Anastasiades had the mettle and the drive to undertake the radical reform needed to clean up the chaotic economic mess, built up over the decades, and create the healthy foundation on which the economy could be re-built.

Almost a year in power, we regret to say, he has failed to live up to these high, perhaps unjustified, expectations and seems as determined to avoid the political cost, that comes with tough decisions and big change, as his predecessor had been. He has shied away from initiating real change, engaging instead in a maintenance job, trying to salvage as many of the distortions and inequities that are the root cause of our problems. He has been consistent in always choosing the path of least resistance and taking a short-term view of things, even in the knowledge that this was not in the interest of the country. It is as if he is already working for his re-election campaign.

This could explain why the root cause for the financial problems faced by the state – the public sector payroll which has an annual cost in the region of €2.4 billion – has not been touched. The pay cuts were those agreed with the troika by the Christofias government, while Ansatasiades’ spokesman and finance minister have both given public assurances there would be no more pay cuts for public employees. In fact none of the mechanisms that would ensure its continuing growth (incremental wage scales and CoLA) after the end of the assistance programme have been scrapped, having only been suspended for a couple of years.

The non-contributory retirement bonuses and super-pensions remain in place and, scandalously, public employees’ monthly contribution to the social insurance fund has increased only 0.5 per cent compared to the 1 per cent for private sector workers, who have always contributed more for much lower pensions. This opportunity to put all citizens on an equal footing was ignored by the president, because like all politicians he would rather preserve public employees’ privileges than have to confront their unions.

In fairness, his handling of the powerful public sector unions has been no different from that of Christofias. He has sanctioned the costly, voluntary retirement schemes at Cyta and the co-op banks, by which redundant workers are offered a king’s ransom to leave their non-existent jobs, gave in to teachers’ unions regarding teaching hours and contractual teachers and scrapped the new public service working hours under pressure from PASYDY, to which he gave personal assurances that their ‘conquest’ would not be touched. Anastasiades, like Christofias before him is in thrall to the unions, not because he is a communist, but because he is just another populist thinking of his re-election.

Even on the Cyprus problem, he seems more concerned with keeping his hard-line allies happy than doing anything bold. Again, he opted for the path of least resistance engaging in a blame game with the Turkish side, over who was responsible for preventing the resumption of talks. He has even undertaken some Downer-bashing, twice writing to the UN Secretary-General to complain about the Australian envoy, to curry favour with the rejectionists, whom he had promised collective decision-making in the handling of the Cyprus problem. Anastasiades is doing a maintenance job on the Cyprus issue as well, because it is the easy option and suits everyone.

This is not the type of leadership we expected from Anastasiades, but it seems that essentially, all Cypriot politicians, despite theoretical differences in ideology, are the same. They are all in thrall to the unions, they all protect the privileges of the public sector workers and they do not care that rest of the population suffers as a result of this. He has embraced the Christofias practice of protecting the public employees from additional pay and pension cuts through the imposition of more taxes. This aversion to cutting the public payroll means there is no money for development projects either. But his government sanctioned the scandalous wasting of €100 million on the purchase of gunboats – thankfully put on hold by the House.

For those of us who had hoped the new government would take the bold decisions that would bring about much-needed change, Anastasiades has been a big disappointment. It was naive to think a product of the dysfunctional, discredited, Cyprus political system would dare to dismantle it.

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