Cyprus Mail
CM Regular Columnist Opinion

When a president engages in crude populism

By Loucas Charalambous

THE STORY has been widely reported by the newspapers. A CyBC journalist was facing serious health problems and according to the health minister had repeatedly been sent abroad for treatment at a cost to the taxpayer of €162,000.

On May 29, she was sent to London for one final diagnosis. The medical report was sent to Cyprus on June 7 and was evaluated by two different, independent medical councils both of which decided that the treatment she required was available in Cyprus.

She was consequently asked to return for treatment to the island but she decided to have it in the UK and demanded that the bill, which came to £13,000 sterling was paid by the state.

The story was first reported in Phileleftheros on July 23 and attracted a lot of attention.

On July 28, the president of the Union of Journalists called a news conference, at which he angrily attacked the state and the CyBC for refusing to pay the medical bill and urged President Anastasiades “to intervene, without delay and put things in order.” Anastasiades obliged and two days later he put things in order, giving instructions for the bill to be settled.

Many issues were raised by this story. First, the journalists’ union needs to offer an explanation for its stance and double standards.

Rarely does a day go by without a news report about the squandering of public money, about which journalists attack either politicians or state officials, accusing them of violating rules and making a mockery of institutions.

On what grounds, in this case, did journalists take the lead in urging the violation of decisions by a state institution such as the independent medical councils?

A few years ago, we were all beating our breasts – justifiably – over the payment of a similar amount by the state for deputy Attorney-General Akis Papasavvas’ tooth implants.

Now, because the person involved was a journalist did the regulations and state institutions have to be treated with contempt? How much hypocrisy?

There is also an issue for the Auditor-General Odysseas Michaelides, who is featured in the papers almost every day reporting irregular practices and illegal spending by the public service.

What is his stand on this issue? Does the president have the authority to order payments from public funds that institutional organs had decided against?

What is Anastasiades to have the right to overturn the decisions of two medical councils, chief medical officer? And why has Michaelides who has a view about everything suddenly gone silent?

As for the members of the medical councils, they should have exhibited some self-respect. Ten days have passed and we still have not heard that at least one doctor has resigned.

They should all have resigned immediately after Anastasiades annulled their decision and imposed his own. Do our doctors have no respect for their professional integrity?

The same applies for the minister of health who, a day before Anastasiades’ decision, had said the state could not pay the medical bill.
As for Anastasiades, what can you say? He is the man he always was.

There is only one thing on his mind and that is his political career. He is constantly sermonising about our institutions but has no qualms about trampling all over them.

Does he realise what a can of worms he has opened with his decision? Does he realise that he has given all Cypriots the right to ignore state rules and regulations and do as they please?

Tomorrow everybody with health problems could check into any hospital in the world, demand that the health ministry settled the bill and if it refused to do so appeal our generous president to order payment.

Incidentally, if the president wanted to show off his largesse why did he not do this using his own money? After all, he is a multi-millionaire, for whom 13,000 sterling pounds is peanuts.

And there is another thing. When on such a sensitive issue he engages in crude populism, in the hope of winning a few votes, could we really expect this man to take the tough decisions needed for a settlement of the Cyprus problem?

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