Cyprus Mail
CM Regular ColumnistOpinion

The promised economic miracle must start from the bottom

A boat ferrying workers across Lake Geneva from Evian, France, to Lausanne

By Hermes Solomon

IN ALMOST every public speech so far, our president has promised an economic upturn by the year 2015, although all present economic and banking indicators point in the opposite direction. Simply talking an upturn doesn’t create jobs or attract investment, and he has yet to tell us how this ‘miracle’ will happen.

It is rumoured that the Bank of Cyprus will ‘fold’ unless foreign investors can be found, and that unemployment will peak at 19 per cent this year, when we all know the true figure is closer to 22 per cent.

The sad truth is that major investment in our education system, healthcare, farming and tourism has been virtually non-existent since the turn of the century in what was a spendthrift culture. Standards of services have fallen drastically in the public sector, penalising the private sector, and Cyprus is no longer competitive with its EU partners and Near East neighbours.

Switzerland, with a land mass just over four times that of Cyprus and a population of eight million has the lowest unemployment rate in the world at just three per cent. Swiss companies are importing labour while we urge our youth to leave Cyprus in search of work.

One hundred and fifty thousand French workers cross the Swiss border daily to work in Geneva and Lausanne, where wages can amount to three times that earned in France for performing the same job. There is no such thing as a 35 hour week for the Swiss, who average between 42 and 45 hours a week, some working all day Saturday. Strikes and industrial disputes are almost unheard of.

But there is also no such thing as job security – bosses are able to hire and fire at will, although regular meetings between management and works’ committees (not unions) seek compromise over disputes instead of confrontation. Easy hiring and firing seems to create more jobs not less as the Swiss economy grows from strength to strength.

At the age of fifteen, three quarters of Swiss schoolchildren choose apprenticeships instead of further education – that is not to say that feeless polytechnics (what the Swiss call universities) are not among world leaders in standards of further education.

Polytechnics encourage student applications from abroad and 65 per cent of polytechnic professors are not of Swiss origin, but chosen from the best available throughout the world.

The Swiss are cosmopolite when it comes to seeking out the best in any particular field, although they have recently voted in a referendum against accepting any more immigrant workers. But the highly qualified foreign engineer, scientist, researcher and the like do not fall into this immigrant category. It is they who help the sophisticated and fully industrialised Swiss economy to prosper, not housemaids, lawyers, economists and accountants. Unknown by many is that Swiss banking makes up for only 10 per cent of the GDP.

Personal taxation rates are low but the cost of living twice that of Cyprus. Switzerland is spotless, well organised and offers among the finest health, education and transport services in the world. Sixty one per cent of the population go to work as against 45 per cent in France and just 37.5 per cent in Cyprus.

Producing university graduates with little chance of finding meaningful work has become a Cypriot disease. Apprenticeships are virtually non-existent here and the quality of artisanal workmanship is becoming increasingly poor – our buildings, roads, transport and healthcare now leaving much to be desired. It seems we want a nice car and nice looking house, but nobody cares about infrastructure and planning for the future of our children and grandchildren. Is a third exodus of migrant workers imminent?

The CEO of bankers, UBS and the president of the Swiss Confederation both arrived at the top via apprenticeships, which teach from the floor up, permitting apprentices access to polytechnic further education according to an individual’s drive, talent and ambition.

The Swiss are regarded as serious yet boring. We Cypriots cannot claim either, and it is for this reason that any economic ‘miracle’ in Cyprus must start from the floor up – seriously at primary schools.

After receiving the Apolytirion (school leaving certificate) conscription into the army takes another two pointless years out of a young man’s life. At what age do we expect our children to become wage earners and pay income tax?

Taxation is a necessary evil, the high rates of which generally improve quality of life for the masses. In Cyprus, few professionals pay taxes yet earn fortunes.

Unless taxation equates with the supply of better public services and a continual improvement in the quality of education, entrepreneurship and innovation, this country’s economy will continue on its downward spiral into oblivion.

On average, the Swiss vote in four referenda annually. Politicians do not decide on how Switzerland is to be run, they simply present the voter with choices.

Our politicians do not present us with choices or permit us to vote in referenda on any matter other than the Cyprob – ours being the most undemocratic of so called democracies run by an elite who do exactly as they choose! Well, that is, until the troika arrived.

The Cyprus economy is not in need of a miracle other than a complete overhaul from the floor up of its out-dated methods and practices.

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