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Better rules to avoid waste of public funds

Attorney-general Costas Clerides’ limo being taken away by bailiffs last month

By George Psyllides

THE cabinet approved on Wednesday stricter rules for expropriations in a bid to avoid being dragged to court over delays in paying its dues and embarrassments such as bailiffs seizing state officials’ vehicles.

The interior ministry said any expropriation worth over €200,000 would need the cabinet’s approval before the procedure could start.

The aim is to prevent phenomena where the state is dragged to court and ordered to pay hefty compensation for expropriated land that was not used within the foreseen time “due to inadequate studies and bad planning, observed many times in state projects,” a ministry statement said.

Under the new regime, ministries planning to expropriate land must receive the cabinet’s approval before taking the final decision.

The new rule concerns expropriations worth over €200,000 including the cost of the project and VAT.

Government departments will have to submit a proposal to the interior minister that will include a viability study, budget, agreement of the finance ministry, and any other data or conditions decided by the interior and finance ministers.

The state already owes more than €500m to people whose land was expropriated and many projects were not expected to be completed.

Late in March, bailiffs seized Attorney-general Costas Clerides’ limo as a result of a court case filed against the government.

Clerides’ car was seized from the reserved parking space in front of the Law Offices in Nicosia on the strength of a court order that ruled in favour of a private citizen whose land, around 10,000 square metres, had been initially expropriated – but never paid for – by the government.

The land in Strovolos was expropriated by the education ministry in 2001 for the purpose of building a school, at the price of 600,000 Cyprus pounds (roughly €1m).

But plans to construct the school never went ahead, and the landowner went to court seeking an annulment as three years had elapsed since the expropriation without the government having developed the land.

In November 2008, the court ordered that the expropriation be reversed, at which point the owner returned the CYP 600,000 and was given back the land.

Despite the annulment in February 2010, the education ministry re-expropriated the land three months later, in May 2010, this time at a price of €5m, because it had been appraised at 2008 property values.

In light of the recession sweeping Cyprus, the state found itself unable to pay the cost of expropriating the land and was starting to have second thoughts about the project. In September 2012 it decided to revoke its decision, because the education ministry had abandoned its plans to build the school.

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