By Constantinos Psillides
A coalition of civic organisations called “Transparency Now!” threw down the gauntlet at all political parties last night, challenging them to make good on their promises for party finance transparency by amending the relevant legislation and adopting an eight point plan.
The suggested reforms to amend the Political Parties Law will make it impossible for parties to receive large anonymous contributions.
In a public discussion held at the Hellenic Bank head office in Nicosia, attended by the heads of the all the parties, representatives from “Transparency Now!” said public life in Cyprus is deeply intertwined with party politics, which in turn are largely shaped by the interests of those who back them financially.
“Our political system is sick and it’s making all of us sick”, said Eric Shukuroglou, one of the coalition’s representatives, adding that murky legislation and anonymous donations are breeding corruption and giving a foothold to organised crime to access politics and affect public life.
“We are driving away competent people and large companies interested to invest in Cypriot projects but are discouraged by cases of corruption,” Shukuroglou said.
“We want political parties to produce quality political work, not amass wealth,” said Constantinos Severis, also from the coalition that has been pushing for party finances transparency reform since 2012.
They have gathered 5,000 signatures to force parliament to act on the matter but the proposed legislation has been stuck in the mud.
The proposed plan stipulates that parties will no longer be able to receive anonymous contributions, however small the amount. Severis argued that the law at present only allows anonymous contributions up to €1,000 but leaves a window open. “What you can do if you want to make a large contribution is to donate €1,000 at a time,” he explained, demanding that this loophole is closed.
The coalition wants all donors to be made public by including them in the party accounts and posting them on their respective website, while anyone with a criminal record or who owes the state money should not be allowed to contribute.
The coalition also asked that all party transactions are made through banks and not in person, that public organisations such as CyTA and EAC aren’t allowed to make contributions and that an independent authority is established to monitor party finances.
“Transparency Now!” also made a case against individual campaign finances, pointing out that the ceiling set at €30,000 has not only been reached but completely shattered.
“We have reports of candidates spending almost half a million in campaign advertising.”
The coalition suggested appointing a Party Finances and Elections Commissioner who will have the authority to access advertising companies and media groups to test the validity of a candidate’s claims.
Political party officials who were present agreed that changes must be made.
The ruling DISY’s president Averof Neophytou promised that his party will impose even greater restrictions in campaign spending, although he didn’t specify whether that will take effect before the May European parliament elections.
The opposition AKEL’s Andros Kyprianou agreed with the coalition’s proposal but clarified that small contribution shouldn’t be made public.
“These are ordinary citizens and their political affiliation should not be disclosed to the world,” Kyprianou argued.
The Green’s party, that is a member of the coalition, has for years been crusading for greater transparency in political party funding.
In a closing note of reassurance to the political establishment, Shukuroglou and Severis said that nobody from the coalition would be running for office nor would they form a party. “Our goal is to improve public life,” they said.