Cyprus Mail

In the land of the crows

By George Psyllides

THOUGH Cyprus has seen scandals before, one could say that 2014 was the year when the political corruption abscess finally burst. Or did it?

It felt like a fresh corruption case was revealed every month. Topping the list so far is the Paphos sewerage board scandal and the arrest of former Paphos mayor Savvas Vergas, a DIKO member, and other party members, in connection with malfeasance relating to the construction of the town’s sewerage system.

Before the dust settled on what social media users dubbed Vergasgate, a football referee, Marios Panayi decided to blow the whistle on the filthy world that is Cypriot football. A fact that was well known but never before had anyone stepprd forward with evidence.

The European governing body UEFA has sent numerous so-called red files to the Cyprus Football Association (CFA), alerting it to possible match fixing. The files were supposedly handed over to police for investigation but that was just about it.

There was also the scandal concerning the technical university in Limassol, and the imprisonment of former Central Bank governor Christodoulos Christodoulou for five months because he cheated tax authorities.

And there’s former interior minister Dinos Michaelides currently on trial in Greece in connection with money laundering for his Greek former defence colleague, Akis Tsohatzopoulos.

Along with these, there have been numerous other smaller cases of abuse of public office, mostly involving waste or theft of taxpayer money.

In fine, corruption is rife in Cyprus.

True, it can be said that it exists everywhere. But, the key difference is that in most countries of the EU (most) such incidents are punished.

And there lies the problem. Going back to Christodoulou for a moment, his case is not about tax evasion. It is much bigger, but it will only be revealed if authorities choose to pursue it. I say they will not.

The answer to the question why can be found in the Greek (also in Latin) expression which means a crow does not gouge out the eye of a crow. It’s a phrase used by people when referring to politicians who cover each other.

But maybe sometimes it gets out of hand and they cannot keep a lid on it, forcing the authorities to act – though rumour has it that the biggest fish involved in the Dromolaxia scandal managed to get away and not for lack of evidence.

So why do they get away with it?

In my book corruption is not the problem. Corruption is the symptom of the malaise that Cypriot society suffers from.

As with the Vergas case, Panayi also implicated politicians. In fact, the common denominator of most if not all big scandals, is that political parties are involved one way or another.

I doubt that DIKO was not aware of what Vergas was allegedly doing. Same certainly applies to AKEL in connection with Dromolaxia.

In the wake of the recent scandals it has been suggested that parties in Cyprus are acting like organised crime syndicates.

They are involved in almost every aspect of daily life. Their involvement has become so deep that we have reached a point where they publicly complain when left out.

Case in point was the accusations voiced by the chairman of DIKO that Bank of Cyprus board members had links to President Nicos Anastasiades’ law firm. This after the recent recapitalisation and change in shareholding structure.

Before that Nicolas Papadopoulos made no complaint, probably because his koumbaros was sitting on the board and he was also close with chairman Christis Hassapis.

There are plenty examples but that is not the point.

The point is people – most at least – get on with their lives as if nothing is wrong. They do not seem to care that all this money comes out of their pocket and that even today, after the country went bankrupt, it is business as usual for political parties.

Some have suggested it is scandal fatigue, but I disagree.

People are divided by ideology and either do not want to believe that their party is corrupt or choose to ignore it.

“Yes but the others also did it,” is a also common response from those who begrudgingly acknowledge their party’s corruption.

And then there is perhaps the most important reason for this tendency to turn the blind eye.

American president John Kennedy’s historic words “ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country” certainly do not apply to Cypriots.

This is not how Cypriots were conditioned. The system trains them to expect everything from the state. And the parties make sure they get it. Jobs, allowances, benefits, eligible or not, qualified or not, votes buy favours. So if I have benefited from this system of clientelism, why would I take to the streets and demand change?

Perhaps most saddening is that the youth, who are usually in the forefront of any push for change, also suffer from this malaise.

Sure, we have seen student protests but usually they belong to the organised youth of a political party and they do it for their own reasons.

The only time students came out for a common cause, it was to protest against the decision to cut entry level pay-scales at the public sector. Makes you wonder if their only aspiration is to graduate and get a government job. Not farfetched.

The most sought-after jobs in Cyprus are in the state sector, municipalities included, and banks.

So their job was to get a degree and they are set for life. No aspirations, no vision, no creativity, nothing. Just sit there and get paid.

Cyprus has an exceptionally high number of university graduates, but this does not mean they are ‘educated’.

Successive governments lacked vision and did next to nothing to encourage private initiative. Corruption, bureaucracy, and aggressive syndicalism did not help either. Pompous declarations about turning Cyprus into a hub of you-name-it, they-said-it, remained just that.

In fact, the only thing Cyprus can boast is being a hub for cafes, wine bars, and eateries. That’s about it.

No, not all Cypriots are corrupt and money-hungry. There are still hard working folk out there, who love their country and who soldier on for the good of the next generations. There are also young kids with bright ideas who want to create and not just sponge off the state. They can drag Cyprus out of the gutter its politicians put it in. But first we need to demand accountability and rid ourselves of the political system in place since the 1960s.

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