Cyprus Mail
CM Regular Columnist Opinion

On the misuse of funds, the Ancient Greeks had it right

By Loucas Charalambous

“THE INSISTENCE of some to link their name with the construction of the Megaro Politismou (Culture Centre) will cost much more than was initially estimated and without anything being built,” wrote Phileleftheros a week ago, referring to an observation about the project in the auditor-general’s report.

The “some”, which the paper was afraid to name, were the late, former president Tassos Papadopoulos and the former executive chairman of Laiki Bank Kikis Lazarides.

In the auditor-general’s report it said: “while the construction of the Megaro did not go ahead, the state was burdened unnecessarily with the cost of the rent of two buildings, one of which with an unjustifiably high rent on a five year contract, although it was known that the department’s own premises would have been completed within two years.” As a result, the building has remained empty for three years now, but the state was expected to pay an additional €236,632 in rents until next May.

On this notorious culture centre, we have so far wasted €15 million for architectural plans, the move of the town planning department (to make way for the centre’s HQ), compensation and operational costs. In these costs are included the ultra generous salaries of the general manager and staff of the centre, which was established by Papadopoulos in 2005, as well as the big amounts spent on travel abroad.

The general manager’s remuneration package included an annual salary of €75,950, a car, allowances and other benefits. A total of seven people were hired by the centre in 2005, at an annual cost to the taxpayer of €256,340 without any work to do.

The brains behind the tragicomic story of the culture centre – the construction of which has now been aborted – was Lazarides, a close friend of Papadopoulos. It was as a favour to his friend that Papadopoulos sanctioned the foolish decision for this costly and unnecessary project. It should be noted that only a few hundred yards from the site where the centre would have been erected, the new THOC theatre has already been built.

Meanwhile there are another two, big modern theatres in greater Nicosia (in Strovolos and Latsia) and the only problem they face is small audiences because of an inadequate number of interested people.

In July 2009, Lazarides pompously announced that the centre “would decorate Nicosia and make it known to the whole world”. And this, at a time when some 272 people involved in culture such as actors, writers, artists etc, announced their opposition to this nonsense, stressing that this was a completely unnecessary project.

But Lazarides, apart from his friend Papadopoulos, had the support of other political demagogues for his misguided inspiration. Demetris Christofias, as president, adopted and pursued this financial scandal. On March 9, 2011, in the middle of a recession, DISY’s Prodromos Prodromou called a news conference to express DISY’s enthusiastic support for the centre and demanded that its construction be speeded up.

Its total cost was calculated to be at least €130m which would in the end have surpassed €200m when the delays, compensation and backhanders that are an integral part of all public projects were factored in.

These days we hear a lot of talk about the return of money stolen by corrupt individuals from the state or squandered on the over-payment of contractors. We could follow the practice used in ancient Athens, in which not only the thieves but also the politicians had to return public money that might have been wasted because of a mistaken decision by them.

And if they did not have the money to return to public coffers, they were obliged to undertake forced labour on public projects until the debt caused by their mistaken decisions was repaid. If it was found that there was intent to deceive, the punishment was execution.

In the case of the culture centre, €15m were wasted and the cost will be paid by taxpayer because Papadopoulos wanted to gift his friend Lazarides the resources to implement his grandiose inspiration. Papdopoulos passed away six years ago, but his heirs are still around.

His son Nicolas, only a few days ago, said on television that all those who had wasted the money of Paphos taxpayers, should return it. By the same logic, should he not ensure that his family return to the taxpayer, the €15m that his father wasted on a culture centre that will not be built?

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