By Clive Turner
A FEW weeks ago, Ric Todd, the new British High Commissioner, called a small group of people in Paphos together to meet and talk to them and to hear their views on a wide variety of issues and concerns.
Members of this group came from various backgrounds and had involvement in all sorts of social endeavour and community interests. There were representatives from The Friends Hospice, Peyia Neighbourhood Watch, The Samaritans, a housing association, a highly informed commentator on property matters, a forces pension fund administrator, and a whole number of others engaged with improving and extending British interests here in Cyprus. Supplied by the British High Commission we were all given labels to wear, and mine was ‘Writer and Campaigner’. So, I thought, that’s how I am perceived then.
Just eleven years ago, after six years of retirement in the UK, my wife and I moved to Cyprus to see how we might settle here in the sun and the warmth and the less frenetic environment of a Mediterranean island. I had been irregularly visiting on business since 1971 so had a little feel for the culture and had several good friends well placed to help us find our feet. One of them was a delightful gentleman (sadly now no longer with us) who had been a government minister in two separate capacities so was as well informed as any friend could be.
However, the change of direction was of course not without its vicissitudes. Yes, we did miss the family, although we do see quite a lot of them nonetheless. We bought a small place to live in while our beautiful one-off uniquely designed house was being built, and although we have been well pleased with the chosen developer, and indeed the finished construction – the headaches and delays, the extra expenses, the unbelievable bureaucracy, and the concomitant stresses took their toll.
We like Cyprus, and its people, but as a community, it did soon become clear that expatriates are not as welcome as they might have thought they would be. Their investment is welcome. Indeed their wealth creation through property purchase is very much welcome. Their trade in the shops is sought and encouraged. Their very considerable voluntary work is appreciated. Their overall contribution through personal tax and IPT is significant.
But there linger the hurtful memories of way back and Greek Cypriots are not great ones for looking forward. They love churning over the past and rely on the coffee shop for progress. The political scene is distressing with no smack of firm government or unified joined up thinking. We have had a recent president who admitted he had no economic intelligence – nor was he, it seemed, willing to listen to anyone who had – and now we have a president who instead of standing up against unreasonable union pressure, simply gives way, with his next electoral target in view. That said, it is good to see that following his recovery from illness, he says he intends to stand stronger in many respects. I think we all look forward to witnessing this.
And then we have seen the widespread corruption and the effects of rusfeti, the latter proving one of the most damaging aspects of Cypriot life. Unqualified and inexperienced people are in jobs for which they are only in place because of family or close friendship connections. This makes for disastrous, wasteful and sometimes ludicrous decisions. As for the extent of corruption, this too frequently comes to light and is truly shameful, with public figures in the dock seeking to explain away greed and patent robbery of public funds. This is doing tremendous internal and external damage to the reputation of the country.
Yet to be enjoyed and admired is the relatively low physical crime rate, the quiet countryside, the beaches, the pretty harbours all within easy reach, the fine medical facilities, the by and large well stocked shops, the ease of travel, local food, the facility to fly in and out from well managed airports, the historical culture evident everywhere, the lack of pollution, the modernity of communication, and of course the hope that one day intransigence will give way to unification of this really very small island.
Since I am supposed to be a campaigner, one of my personal sadnesses is the unwillingness of officialdom to engage in any correspondence. I recall when Leda Koursoumba was working on the endlessly drawn out Crematorium Bill, now inexplicably entering year twelve of its machination, I wrote to ask her how she was getting on. The answer indirectly relayed to me was that she was answerable only to the government machine. And when I wrote again to congratulate her on a very fine piece of finished work, she felt unable to respond. Wouldn’t you think a brief phone call, a short email, or perhaps even a letter might have been spared?
I wrote to the president to seek his support on getting on with the same bill, and urging him, too, to think about allowing, and in fact encouraging, all expatriate vote inclusion for presidential elections when one considers we are all subject to his deliberations. I thought this might elicit some thoughtful and considered comment. But other than his office director rather hilariously offering the president’s “personal good wishes for health and happiness” and recommending I write to Interior Minister Socratis Hasikos (which I did, and received no acknowledgment), the president was obviously unable to afford any time.
My experience is that no minister or senior official is either up to corresponding with the expatriate community, or couldn’t care less, since that community has no political influence whatsoever, save through municipal or EU elections. I find this very sad. And, of course, undemocratic.
So, I go on, with the support of the Cyprus and Sunday Mail, addressing issues like graffiti, utterly useless wind farms, a few social problems (like litter), the Crematorium Bill, in support for which I have now collected almost 10,000 names and not all expatriate names since there are now many, many other faiths here in addition to the Greek Orthodox; the votes issue; and economic illiteracy; but I carefully keep out of the Cyprob because this is unquestionably something for the indigenous Cypriot people to resolve one day.
Is it wrong to be a campaigner? Is it a waste of time? Are local issues none of my business despite living here as a permanent resident? Is it an impertinence to engage in public discussion? I happen not to think so, and indeed I hope not.
Happy New Year everyone!