SINCE taking over the defence ministry, Christoforos Fokaides has been talking about his plans to modernise the National Guard and turn it into a well-organised, flexible and battle-ready army. Nobody doubts that the minister means what he says, but whether he would be able to achieve his objective is another matter.
A clue of the difficulties he will encounter was provided in the speech by the outgoing Chief of the National Guard, General Stylianos Nasis, during the handing over ceremony on Wednesday. General Nasis spoke about the existence of rival cliques within the National Guard, accusing certain officers of pursuing their personal interest, “not hesitating tarnishing reputations of those who did not agree with them” and of “exhibiting indolence and indifference.”
He called for united action, advised officers to “show moral and military courage” and urged them not to “allow those who were professionally inadequate to direct developments in the National Guard.” This painted a bleak picture of the National Guard, even though some reports implied that the General’s speech was a case of sour grapes, a reaction to his failure to have his contract extended. Regardless of his motives, the unhealthy situation he spoke about was also touched by President Anastasiades who stressed that factions in the National Guard were unacceptable.
It is not difficult to deduce that behind the factions or cliques was nepotism which plagues all areas of the public sector. It is no secret that the majority of the Cypriot officers in the National Guard have links to political parties that protect and help them. The army works in exactly the same way as the rest of the public service, the political parties pulling the strings and helping their own when it comes to promotions and transfers.
But why did General Nasis, if he was so unhappy with the situation, do nothing about it in his two years in the post, tolerating the existence of cliques and only speaking out when he left his post? His speech was in effect an admission of the failure of his leadership and his inability to maintain control over his officers. This, admittedly, is easier said than done, because National Guard officers enjoy the same work privileges as all public servants – iron-clad job security, promotions regardless of performance and political party protection – even if they are not unionised.
A National Guard chief who tried to shake up the army hierarchy, penalised poor discipline and indolence, imposed meritocracy and ignored the requests for favours from the politicians would be sacked in no time. Our politicians could not have created an army that was different from the rest of the public service. Army officers are just civil servants in fatigues, displaying the same selfish attitudes and lack of professionalism as their colleagues in civilian clothes.
If Fokaides believes he can make a well-organised, flexible and battle-ready army with such personnel he must know something we do not.