By Constantinos Psillides
PARTY leaders have pledged to amend the Political Party Law by September in an attempt to promote transparency in financing, in accordance with the recommendations of the GRECO report.
GRECO, the group of states against corruption that operates under the Council of Europe, slammed Cyprus in an April 2011 report, saying that current legislation needed to be amendment so the public was better informed on the financial backing of political parties. Some changes were made in 2013, as parties were forced to make their finances public, but no substantial changes took place.
Party leaders gave assurances to Eric Shukuroglou, a representative of the ‘Transparency Now!’ a coalition of civic organisations, during an open discussion on Wednesday on reforming party finance law.
Their aim is to get ahead of the next GRECO report, which is expected to be published on September 2014. The law amendment is currently being discussed at the House but ‘Transparency Now!’ feels the parties are stalling.
“There are ways to find solutions, as long as there is political resolve,” Shukuroglou told the Cyprus Mail. “We will wait and see how the parties handle the matter”. Shukuroglou also said that Interior Minister Socratis Hasikos promised that a comprehensive legal framework would be sent to the House within the coming weeks.
In accordance to GRECO suggestions, ‘Transparency Now!’ proposed an eight point plan for the overhaul of the Political Party Law. Among others, the proposed amendments would make it impossible for parties to receive large anonymous donations or to receive money from people with criminal records. The parties would also be required to make all contributions over €1,000 public, by posting a donor list on their websites.
The latter caused some controversy during the open discussion, when AKEL leader Andros Kyprianou said that small contributions from ordinary people shouldn’t be made public. “Their political affiliation is their own business”, he had said during the open discussion.
“I wanted to get up and address the issue but there was simply no time,” said Shukuroglou, explaining that what the coalition meant was that there should be a record of donations. “They don’t have to make small donations public. But they have to keep a record of them. They have to write them down and include them in the statement they would be submitting to the auditor-general, so the state knows there was no wrongdoing,” he explained.
As the law currently stands, contributions under €1,000 can be anonymous and can’t be tracked, leaving a loophole open for people who wish to donate large amounts but don’t want their names to appear on any donor list. They divide the amount they wish to donate into €1,000 instalments that can be deposited under the protection of anonymity.
‘Transparency Now!’ also asked that candidates running for office adhere to the €30,000 campaign spending ceiling. They proposed that the body concerned with verifying political campaign spending be given the authority to access media outlets and advertising offices finances.
Asked whether that constituted a breach of personal data, Shukuroglou gave a clear answer. “This personal data cheap excuse must come to an end. There are a lot of people who throw this one around and frankly we are getting tired of it. Of course candidate spending doesn’t belong in the personal data realm. They are asking for the public’s vote so people have to know where their financial backing comes from. They should know who is paying for their campaign,” he said.
The limit applies to municipal and parliament elections. The limit for European parliament elections is set at €50,000.
‘Transparency Now!’ is not very optimistic regarding the political parties resolve. “We would be keeping an eye out and pressure them to make good on their pledge,” the representative of the coalition promised.