By Angelos Anastasiou
The treatment of immigrants by Cypriot authorities and the health ministry’s failure to comply with the Commissioner for Administration’s recommendations were the two main issues raised by Ombudswoman Eliza Savvides in her annual report, delivered to President Nicos Anastasiades on Monday.
Receiving the reports, Anastasiades said he followed the ombudswoman’s actions closely.
“We are slowly starting to adopt an attitude of compliance and adjustment to the Ombudswoman’s recommendations,” the President said, praising her for the objectivity and integrity she brings to the post.
But in a news conference held after the event, Savvides painted a rather darker picture.
While acknowledging that government departments and services in general had shown significant improvement in 2013 on the Commission’s recommendations, singling out the much-improved situation at the central prisons, Savvides added that some were consistently found wanting, citing the health ministry as a typical example of government inertia and resistance to change.
“We are getting nowhere,” joked a senior Commission official when asked about the health ministry’s response to the Ombudswoman’s recommendations.
“As a service we are generally satisfied with the degree of compliance [of government departments and services],” Savvides told reporters.
“For example, we have witnessed impressive changes at the central prisons following a series of interventions from us,” she added.
She was referring to sweeping reforms at the penitentiary facility last year, following a string of suicides by inmates that brought the institution under heavy scrutiny and unveiled detention conditions that constituted abuse – including limited access to food and water.
“The nature of individual complaints we receive from inmates has changed,” Savvides argued. “While we received numerous complaints of abuse over 2011 and 2012, last year we only had complaints relating to day-to-day issues, such as the right to enter the open prison or visit their families.”
“Having said that, there are some services whose compliance with our recommendations is lacking – for example the health ministry,” she said. “I think it is one of the most problematic ministries, as we see no improvements on our recommendations.”
According to Savvides, the Ombudswoman’s office received 2,679 individual complaints in 2013, down slightly from 2,776 in 2012.
Of these, 512 were not investigated for various reasons, leaving 2,167.
But of these, only 169 left the plaintiff satisfied following the Ombudswoman’s intervention.
That is mostly because various complaints – almost a third of all that were not fully investigated – were settled prior to the conclusion of investigation.
Most complaints related to immigrants’ rights – 16.8 per cent – followed by social welfare benefits – 12.6 per cent – and land-development complaints – 11.4 per cent.
This reflected on the number of complaints received against each department, with the Interior ministry leading the list with 743 individual complaints, ahead of the labour ministry with 440.