Cyprus Mail
CM Regular Columnist Opinion

The smart suit and neck tie brigade

Scandals in Paphos part of a much wider probelm

By Hermes Solomon

WHEN SAVVAS Vergas, mayor of Paphos was arrested ten days ago, he arrived at the police station in an unmarked, mid-range saloon car, loosely accompanied by two plain clothes officers and no handcuffs.

He was wearing a cream coloured pair of slacks – tight about the crotch and down the inside leg – belted around a full tummy topped by an open neck shirt.

Lately seen unshaven with periorbital dark circles under his eyes, I cannot confirm whether he was sporting a Rolex at the time of his arrest, but nonchalant he strolled in, resembling a lifetime worn-out playboy of the west of Cyprus. It was unlike his presumed partner in the Aristo Affair, Theodoros Aristodemou, who was taken in for questioning several weeks earlier, held for ten days then discharged looking dapper, bedecked in a smart suit, spotless white shirt and quiet necktie.

They say dress maketh the man, and if I had to pronounce on a man’s guilt prior to judgement and based solely on his appearance, I know who I would choose.

Thorough in-depth investigations into both of the men’s bank accounts – as many as they certainly have – could highlight ‘inexplicable goings-on’ in a society bred to ‘con’ all-comers.

Cyprus has changed hands many times throughout its long history, including a 300 years long Ottoman ‘return of favours in kind’ society – notably, you pat my back and I’ll pat yours.

Of course, colonial powers are no better in their manner of conducting business than we are, but they have, over the centuries, perfected intrigue, embezzlement, corruption and cronyism. Today’s Brussels is the equivalent of ‘Constantinople’s late 19th century harem of political whores’, which incited the rise to power of Kemal Ataturk.

We are beginners when it comes to corruption. And if thorough in-depth investigations of the 50 richest Cypriot bank accounts (now that ‘exchange of information’ exists throughout all EU banks) were to be undertaken, indictments much worse than those of former CBC chief, Christodoulos Christodoulou, Savvas Vergas and Theodoros Aristodemou would be rife.

When we cried foul play recently over a DNA report as to our origins (less Greek and more Persian/Hungarian in our blood than we were prepared to accept) our manner of dress and general comportment was not taken into account. But it should have been.

The smart suit, white shirt and quiet necktie brigade have been ruling this republic with fixed smiles ever since its inception. Few are truly cultured, highly cultivated or well-educated. None are born of blue blood – there is no upper class in Cyprus other than our self-proclaimed ‘elite’. We are all undeniably one and the same – descendants of peasant stock – the black bread, cheese and olives brigade!

Hiding incompetence behind formal dress and a smiling persona fools most of the people most of the time – it takes a gentleman to spot another – thus nobody dare be seen in public wearing jeans and a sweat shirt.

When I inquired of a top civil servant as to the reason behind ‘smart’ dress sense and clone-like comportment, he said in all seriousness that it displayed respect for his job, other citizens and the country.

The reform of public administration – designed to maximise efficiency and generate savings – is an obligation stemming from Cyprus’ bailout agreement; solutions must be ready by January 2015.

That same civil servant told me that improvements in the running of all departments are sorely needed, but meetings between union leaders and officials responsible for the reorganisation must be held to the exclusion of politicians; this paramount to successful integration of reform and the only way forward.

“The public service has bumbled along since 1960 and works reasonably well,” he said. “But if you think it’s a bit of mess now, just wait until we try to implement new procedures after politicians have stuck their noses in. If anything, the House of Reps should first put its own house in order.”

Oh, what a tangled web impossible to ‘un-weave’ should investigations ever reach into the depths of distortion accepted as ‘normal business practice’ on this island of the smiling smartly dressed. And that’s the reason why our judiciary dare not delve too deeply into the very ‘crotch’ of corruption!

On taking office last year, Chinese Premier, Li Jin Ping promised to rid the country of corrupt officials and has since imprisoned over ten thousand found guilty of a variety of offences. One of the accused, stripped of his assets and the right to a hospital bed, threw himself to his death from a high-rise rather than face dishonour followed by a long prison term.

President Anastassiades has also promised in-depth investigations into corrupt practices yet, after a year and a half of pointless judicial pandering, just a few scapegoats have been charged with ‘minor offences’ in the hope of calming a rising rabble of discontent among ordinary citizens.

If China can find over ten thousand government officials guilty of corruption, Cyprus can surely find half a dozen – although we all know the true number to be much higher.

The Vergas/Aristodemou (public official and businessman) plot thickens and will highlight many similar cases of ‘back patting’. But will the judiciary or troika take note and force a rout of establishment ‘crooks’? I doubt it…

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