By Angelos Anastasiou
PARTIES OPPOSING the bill to protect primary residences from foreclosure pulled a fast one on the legislation’s supporters at committee level on Monday, ensuring the controversial document would not be sent to the plenum this Thursday.
Despite pleas that the bill, if passed, would cause a new crisis as banks would not be able to seize assets to recoup on non-performing loans, AKEL and EDEK, which tabled the bill, had managed to defeat the naysayers at the House Legal Affairs Committee last Friday by force of numbers.
With a full roster the committee has nine members. But last Friday two DIKO members were missing and three deputies from ruling DISY – going against the party line – joined with the bill’s supporters to push through the vote to send it to the plenum.
At yesterday’s extraordinary session of the committee however, DISY and former coalition partner DIKO, showed up with a full complement of their members. Together they held five of the nine votes, easily defeating AKEL and EDEK. And to make sure his three deputies toed the line this time, DISY leader Averof Neophytou went along to keep an eye on them.
And if the message had not been made clear enough by his attendance alone, on arrival, Neophytou awkwardly placed himself at the edge of the table on the right of DISY MP and committee chairman Sotiris Sampson. Yet another sign of his attempt to strong-arm the deputy came during the ensuing discussion, when Neophytou charged that the committee had taken advantage of a “circumstantial majority” – alluding to the absence of DIKO’s two deputies from Friday’s session, which allowed the opposition parties de facto majority – in order to put the bill to the plenum. When AKEL MP Aristos Damianou protested the implication of underhand tactics, Neophytou impulsively erupted. “Fine – if not you, then the committee’s chairman,” he snapped.
Immediately reasserting his composed demeanour and usual indoor voice, Neophytou made the point that as discussion on the bill had not yet been exhausted at committee level when the Friday decision was made, it could not possibly be submitted for plenary discussion, he said, and offered the need to hold a further meeting on Monday as evidence of his logical assertion.
“Let public opinion believe that AKEL and EDEK want to protect homeowners and small businesses and that DISY is socially insensitive,” Neophytou said. “We don’t mind.”
“But this is an incomplete bill that cannot be voted on.”
Yesterday’s session had been scheduled as an extraordinary session in order for the two parties that introduced the bill – left-wing AKEL and socialist EDEK – to submit three amendments that would address the concerns voiced by Finance Minister Harris Georgiades and new Central Bank Governor Chrystalls Georghadji.
When the two opposition parties realised the line of argument that was being employed by DISY deputies, they tactically refrained from presenting any amendments by invoking their right to submit them to the plenary session on Thursday. This was an attempt to negate Neophytou’s argument and prevent any new vote that could effectively overturn Friday’s decision.
But it was all too little, too late. Before hijacking the meeting, Neophytou had come to an understanding with the DIKO leader and committee member Nicolas Papadopoulos. As soon as Papadopoulos described his party’s position, the outcome of the session had become obvious, even though his political instinct was to refrain from owning the decision to back Neophytou and DISY through careful use of the third person.
“DIKO does not disregard the incoming governor’s concerns,” he said. “She has asked for some time to study the issue in detail, which is understandable. Also, the need for amendments to the bill indicates that it is not ready for the plenum. DIKO would consent to a motion to postpone.”
Speaking to the press after the session, Sampson was visibly dejected.
“Since amendments to the bill are being prepared, the committee felt that discussion has not been concluded,” he said. “Therefore the committee has decided to postpone the submission of the bill to the plenum.”
Nonetheless, the duo’s collaboration to defeat the Friday decision caused political furore, so much so that AKEL and EDEK’s four committee members abstained from yesterday’s vote in protest of the “DISY-DIKO collusion”. Not that the abstention helped their cause.
AKEL MP and committee member Yiannos Lamaris unleashed a scathing criticism, implying that DISY and DIKO were trying to protect big-business loan defaulters by allowing banks to go after small borrowers.
“Two months ago it was reported that 22 major borrowers owe €6.5 billion in loans,” he said. “We call on the central bank to tell us what they owe now and what DISY and DIKO plan to do about them.”
EDEK MP Roulla Mavronikola, who was filling in for committee member Nicos Nicolaides, said that while the bill was being discussed for eight months, none of the now-dissenting parties offered any objection or amendment at committee level.
“This was a subversion of democracy,” she said. “A decision was made on Friday but the well-known game of blackmail at the last minute was played again by DISY and DIKO. What happened here speaks for itself.”