THE MAIN slogan on the placards of the protesting Cyprus Airways employees is “The country needs a national carrier.” In the absence of rational economic arguments to support saving the loss-making airline with mounting debts, unions and politicians have turned its rescue into an issue of patriotic necessity.
A country under occupation needed a national carrier so as not to be cut off from the rest of the world was one of the nonsensical arguments heard. It was taken a step further – one of the airlines that expressed an interest in taking it over had been negotiating the sale of a large chunk of its own shares to Turkish Airlines. The deal fell through but the danger of our national carrier falling into the hands of Turkish Airlines would loom if it were sold off to a foreign company, it was claimed.
The taking over of Cyprus’ businesses by foreign interests has been a recurring theme on radio shows and in newspaper columns recently. There is the troika imposing its diktats that would lead to people losing their homes and businesses, the two main Cypriot banks were under foreign ownership and would be merciless in dealing with people not paying their debts, the national carrier was for sale (if a buyer could be found) while privatisation would lead semi-governmental organisations also falling into foreign hands, warn the defenders of Cypriot ownership.
More worrying was that SGOs like CyTA and the Ports Authority which were integrally linked to national security, would no longer be controlled by the government, but by foreign businessmen whose only concern would be maximising profits. They ignore that both our airports have been operated by a foreign company for many years now without our national security ever being put at risk. In fact it has done an excellent job so far. The only negative things that our deputies have found to say about the company was that it charged too much for parking and that it had no right to fine cars that were illegally parked.
While it is true that foreigners might be taking over our ports and telecommunications company, just like they took control of our banks, is it such a bad thing? No, given the way we have run these businesses into the ground, mismanaging them and plundering them. It is no fluke that the foreign owners of Hellenic Bank and the Bank of Cyprus have recruited foreigners as their chief executives. Harsh as it may sound, they have decided that their investments, worth hundreds of millions of euros, would be safer if managed by foreign executives, whose decision-making is unlikely to be influenced by greedy unions, meddling politicians and their incompetent placemen.
Cyprus Airways is at risk of being closed down today because for decades it was run by the destructive coalition of unions, parties and their placemen that created this wreckage of an airline. The Electricity Authority is at risk of suffering a similar fate – its surpluses are declining every year, despite is monopolistic status – once power production is opened to competition. Privatisation is probably the only way to save it. Should we also mention the endemic corruption at these state-owned organisations? The CyTA land scandal is in court, while the CEO of the Ports Authority is under investigation by the police in connection with a case of illegal payments. And now, top brass at the CTO are under investigation for squandering public money.
In short, we have no-one to blame but ourselves for the fact that foreigners will be taking over all our big companies and organisations. We bankrupted the state and called in the international lenders to save us, giving them the right to dictate how we should manage our economy – privatisations were a condition for help being provided. We bankrupted the banks and needed foreign investors to keep them afloat.
Harsh as it may say sound, the ruling clique of politicians, senior public officials, union bosses, and political party hangers-on that have run the country since independence have proved corrupt, self-serving and incompetent failures. Their primary concern in the last 50 years has been increasing their wealth by maximising their share of the spoils of power. Not only have they bled dry the country, but the next two generations Cypriots will be paying off the debts left behind by this self-serving clique that made the arrival of foreign business interests inevitable.
The foreigners will most probably do a better job of running big organisations and services than we have done. One thing is certain – they cannot be any worse.