By Elias Hazou
THE Supreme Court is to fast-track the repossessions-related bills referred to it due to the gravity of the situation, its president said yesterday.
“What I can say is that in light of the nature of these cases the Supreme Court will give them priority, realising the gravity and the implications these have,” Supreme Court President Myron Nikolatos told the Cyprus News Agency.
He declined to give a tentative timeline for a Supreme Court ruling, however.
Four out of six bills voted by parliament last Saturday to limit the scope of the controversial foreclosures bill were found to be conflicting with the constitution of Cyprus and referred to the Supreme Court for a ruling.
Yesterday, President Nicos Anastasiades informed party leaders of his decision to send the other two bills back to parliament. Parliament can now accept his referral or send them back to the Presidential Palace and see this matter also settled by the Supreme Court.
The President was expected today to refer the four items to the Supreme Court and the other two to the House.
Once the legislative proposals are sent back, MPs have a maximum 15 days in which to respond. Depending on the President’s arguments for returning the bills, the House may agree to amend them or withdraw them altogether.
Government sources, however, told the Mail these two items are of ‘lesser concern’ than the four referred to the Supreme Court, since they do not significantly subvert the philosophy of the core foreclosures legislation.
The parties’ move to pass a slew of bills complementary to the government’s main repossessions law has prompted the European Commission to withhold the next tranche of financial assistance.
The Commission said parts of the legislation passed by parliament were incompatible with the terms of the island’s bailout.
The six contentious bills, which were tabled and voted by opposition parties as a “safety net” to vulnerable groups against the risk of foreclosure, had been referred to the Attorney-general by the President on Monday for a constitutionality review, following the Troika’s explicit opposition to their provisions.
Cyprus may have missed today’s deadline for the disbursement of the next bailout tranche, but it is possible for the Eurogroup to convene extraordinarily at a subsequent date, including via conference call and give the nod for the cash, provided the troika is satisfied.
That gives the island a bit of breathing space – but not much. Without the troika cash injection, the state is essentially insolvent, thus the sooner the issue is settled the better.
According to former Attorney-general Alekos Markides, it is possible over the next fortnight for the Supreme Court to deliver a ruling on the constitutionality of the four bills referred to it.
The Supreme Court’s standing record for delivering a judgment on a Presidential referral is 15 days, in a case dating back to 1985, Markides told the state broadcaster.
Markides fully endorsed the President’s decision to take a shortcut by referring the four bills straight to the Supreme Court, rather than first sending them back to the House, as per usual procedure.
Given that the House majority would have rejected the President’s pleas for a rethink, wasting even more time, the President’s move was wise, he said.
The former AG and one-time presidential candidate sided with the administration against the parties, whom he accused of cheap political gamesmanship by insisting on a so-called ‘safety net’ for vulnerable groups.
In particular, Markides attacked a bill – authored jointly by AKEL and EDEK – exempting primary residences worth up to €350,000, as well as small-business premises, from foreclosure if the debtor can demonstrate that his inability to repay the mortgage was the result of the current economic crisis.
“Whom is this supposed to protect? Are we to believe that €350,000 is an amount to frown upon?” Markides said.
“If someone has a house worth €350,000, then more likely than not he or she is a millionaire. Are these the vulnerable people whom the opposition parties want to protect?”
The former AG also lashed out at the mentality of certain quarters in Cyprus who treat the island’s creditors as “our adversaries.”
Markides said warnings of mass evictions of people from their homes are tantamount to scaremongering.
Central Bank data show that non-performing loans on primary residences, especially on the lower end of the market, represent only a fraction of total NPLs – strongly suggesting that these won’t be the debtors that commercial banks will be chasing first.
And at any rate, under the bill drafted by the government, primary residences are exempted until January from the initiation of repossessions proceedings.