By Elias Hazou
INTERIOR Minister Socrates Hasikos landed a bombshell on Monday when he said that, as part of broader financial consolidation in the public sector, state broadcaster CyBC may have to lay off some 100 employees to remain viable.
He was citing the findings of a report commissioned by the interior ministry detailing necessary cutbacks at the broadcaster.
“Unless we [government and parliament] do not work together on this, the black hole will grow larger,” he told reporters, alluding to CyBC’s finances.
For a number of years, said Hasikos, money that was supposed to go to the pension fund instead ended up being spent on purchasing television programmes.
A €105m deficit in CyBC’s pension fund could leave retired employees without pensions next year. Hasikos noted also the CyBC would need an additional €2m before the end of the year as the €24.3m state subsidy for 2014 will not cover all the year’s expenses.
“I warned the House it would not be enough,” he said.
Hasikos was speaking at the House finance committee, where he presented a summary of his ministry’s budget for 2015.
Calling it an austerity budget, the minister said expenditures would total €510m, of which regular expenditures came to €298m and discretionary spending to €212m.
Under pressure from international lenders, the government must reduce its payroll and improve efficiency in the public sector to generate savings.
Reform of local administration is a major aspect of the drive.
Municipalities currently have outstanding debts of €600m, of which some €300m are owed to cooperative banks.
Hasikos said the relevant reform legislation must be passed by the end of the year; it will be implemented as of 2017. Without state grants, several municipalities will go bankrupt by then, he added.
“Waste in local government is a fact known to everyone,” he noted.
The auditor-general’s office is to invite tenders for private audit firms to review the books of some 500 public entities – including municipalities, community councils, sewerage boards, government water projects, school commissions and funds – which had not submitted accounts for years.
Speaking to MPs, Hasikos claimed that over the past 14 months the government has brought €1bn of “fresh money” into the country via an investment-for-citizenship scheme.
He did not source this data, however, prompting the chairman of the House finance committee Nicolas Papadopoulos to request an official report.
Regarding the refugees who were recently rescued off the coast of Cyprus, and now living in barracks in Kokkinotrimitha, Hasikos said the state cannot sustain these people indefinitely.
The refugees would be given three months to apply for asylum or for permanent residency. The refugees, mostly Syrian nationals, are entitled to travel to other countries, provided they secure all the required visas, or apply for asylum in Cyprus. So far, only six have applied for asylum, three of whom are unaccompanied minors.
Hasikos said also the government is determined to press ahead with legislation on civil partnerships, despite objections from the church.
“The government is afraid of neither the archbishop nor anyone else,” he remarked.