By Loucas Charalambous
A FORTNIGHT ago there was a scene in a TV report looking at the consequences of the economic meltdown on the vulnerable groups of our society, that I found quite disturbing.
The reporter approached an elderly gentleman outside a grocery store and asked him what he had in his shopping bag. “I just bought a loaf of bread and one tomato to eat,” he told her. The incredulous reporter asked: “Is that all? That would be your meal today, bread and a tomato?” His response was: “What else? This is what we can afford.”
The broadcasting of this report coincided with two other issues that dominated the news at the time – the row about business class travel and the bickering over the state limousines. At a time when we have 75,000 unemployed, when there are thousands of people who cannot afford a proper meal, the Anastasiades government chose to bring back the issue of business class travel for officials.
At the same time, he also chose to increase the number of those eligible to use a state limo on a 24-hour basis. On both issues the government messed up, taking contradictory decisions that it kept changing in accordance with the reactions.
As regards business class travel, the Council of Ministers decided to re-introduce it for all those who had been eligible before its suspension in January 2013, including a large number of civil servants. After the publication of the decision, which sparked a strong reaction, the government retreated, issuing a ‘clarification’ that only the president, ministers and very few other officials would be eligible to travel business.
The ‘clarification’ created a bit of an uproar as it excluded party leaders and deputies, who have embarked on a behind-the-scenes battle to be included in the business class eligibility list.
Developments on the issue of the state limos have been farcical. Initially, the finance ministry drafted a proposal increasing the number of officials eligible to 85 from the 11 that the House of Representatives had decided in January.
Last Wednesday though, the Council of Ministers, in order quell public anger, approved a bill which provided that formerly eligible state officials would keep the limos they had, but on a ‘personal basis’. The bill envisages the provision of a state limo, on a 24-hour basis, to the wife of the president.
In bankrupt and impoverished Cyprus, it is not considered a staggering provocation, for Mrs Anastasiades to have at her disposal a state limo (perhaps with chauffeur?), when at the same time a fellow Limassolian (the gentleman mentioned above) could only afford some bread and a tomato for his meal.
A French television channel recently broadcast a documentary on how one Dutch minister spent his day. Had it been shown here, Cypriot viewers would have witnessed some very peculiar things. For instance, the minister’s children get the school bus to and from school every day along with all the other kids. The house in which he lived was small and modest, like those in which ordinary Cypriots live.
The minister was picked up from his home every morning in a ministry-provided car, which was much smaller and more modest than the luxury BMWs of our ministers. However, for all his personal activities, the minister used his own car.
Of course The Netherlands is not a bankrupt state like Cyprus, in which not only the ministers but dozens of other state and semi-governmental officials have at their disposal, on a 24-hour basis, a luxury, 3.5 litre Beemer. Not even the wife of the Dutch prime minister has such a limo at her disposal at the taxpayer’s expense.
Then again, in The Netherlands, it is difficult to find a pensioner that can only afford to buy a loaf of bread and one tomato.