Cyprus Mail

Party donations in focus

Is the Disy bigger than the President of the Republic

By Stefanos Evripidou

RULING DISY supports horizontal voting in the Cypriot electoral system and would also like to see parties be funded by the state to release them from the current system of dependency on donations, said party chief Averof Neophytou yesterday.

Speaking after meeting with a delegation from the Transparency Now NGO – which advocates complete transparency in politics and party funding – Neophytou gave his backing to the organisation’s proposal for horizontal (cross-party) voting, and backed the call for full transparency in party funding.

The DISY leader even suggested the state budget cover party finances so that parties do not end up in a situation where they depend on donations from people and businesses to operate.

Neophytou said changes to the way parties are funded have been delayed for decades without justification.

A government bill promoting transparency based on the recommendations of the Council of Europe’s anti-corruption body, the GRECO Commission, was due to be passed before the summer but has seen repeated delays with no adoption date on the cards.

GRECO has long established a set of guidelines to help fight corruption by imposing transparency on the financial backing of parties.

Cyprus was slammed in a 2011 GRECO report for its poor performance in harmonising with the anti-corruption guidelines. The emergence of local group Transparency Now has led to a rise in public pressure for the government and parties to carry out reform of the seemingly rotten system.

The DISY leader argued that “time has passed, (and) unfortunately the government has not yet brought the bill on transparency”.

He called on political parties to instead begin discussions on the draft bill prepared by DISY, in collaboration with Transparency Now and the Greens, which covers all these issues and puts GRECO’S recommendations into practice.

“The law must pass. We’ve already delayed too many years;”

In the meantime, Neophtyou assured Transparency Now that all contributions to the party from the smallest donation to the highest will be made public, with the name and identity of the donor or company name and tax registration number.

The party leader added that transparency alone would not solve the parties’ problems with dependence on donations, and suggested party finances be covered by the state budget.

“Democracy costs. If we’re talking about an extra two, three million (euro) a year to free ourselves of any dependence on any businessman who gives donations to the parties, I believe we must be bold.”

Regarding horizontal voting, Neophytou said both sides agree fully on the matter, though he noted that for this to become a reality, it requires approval from the majority of parties, not just DISY.

“It is a matter of principle for us. But to make changes, you need a majority. As you do for the electoral bar,” he said.

Currently 1.8 per cent of the vote is enough for a party to claim a seat in parliament. DISY wants to raise the electoral bar to 5 per cent. At present, this would exclude the Green Party, Citizens’ Alliance and EVROKO from a seat in parliament.

Transparency Now representative Stelios Kythreotis said the NGO did not agree with DISY on the electoral bar issue but would wait to hear the views of all parties and analyse them carefully.

Regarding transparency, the group has been saying for months that the government bill appears to be gathering dust on the shelf.

Kythreotis commended DISY for being the only party to react to the delays, sending a letter to the relevant ministry inquiring about the government bill.

“We’re waiting for the honest position of all parties on the issue so the legal proposal can be voted on immediately, based on the GRECO principles of full transparency of parties.”

Regarding parties’ dependence on donations, he said: “Nobody can explain to citizens why a company gives money to a party.” Nor can they explain how a party will react if the company asks it to do something, he added.

As for horizontal voting, the reason this is needed is to have “renewal, clean people, clean hands in key posts and mainly in parliament so as to avoid these mutual dependencies and the problems which led us to this situation,” said Kythreotis.

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