By Bejay Browne
FEDONAS Fedonos is a man in a big hurry with an awesome weight of responsibility on his youthful shoulders.
The new mayor of Paphos is tasked with cleaning up the scandal-hit municipality and preparing the town for its prestigious spell as the European capital of culture in 2017, just two years away.
The clean-up is both literal and figurative. The Town Hall was bustling with activity when the Sunday Mail visited this week in the wake of Fedonos’ election last Sunday. Employees were clearing out desks and cupboards and removing sacks of rubbish.
New offices were being prepared. Fedonos says that under his disgraced predecessor, Savvas Vergas – who is facing a number of charges for alleged financial wrongdoing and corruption – some councillors didn’t even have a desk to sit at or computer to work on.
As an anti-corruption crusader who played a leading role in exposing the town’s sewerage board graft scandal – and received death threats as its mind-boggling details emerged – Fedonos should be a huge morale-booster for the municipality’s 219 employees. In turn, he expects them to deliver.
“They are employed to work for eight hours but often ‘real’ working hours are around only four. This must be increased – I want to get the best performance out of everybody,” he says briskly.
He is keenly aware this is essential with just 23 months left to get Paphos ready for its coveted role as cultural capital. Seven large structural projects to rejuvenate the town need to be completed, including the renovation of the town centre, the municipality square, the Makideio theatre, the old Othello cinema, Moutallos square and the municipality market.
With his can-do attitude, he is confident this can be achieved and appears to relish the challenge. At 36 he is one of Cyprus’ youngest mayors – which he counts as an advantage – along with having “an open line and good relations with all political parties and decision makers”.
He is committed to working closely with all those involved in giving Paphos a vibrant town centre, clean roads, renovated buildings and a good public transport system by 2017.
To smooth his path, he insists he will treat council members with respect – in stark contrast, he suggests, to his predecessor whom he clearly regards with contempt.
“The ex-mayor created an unpleasant atmosphere of conflict; that has all changed now.”
Fedonos now wants the people of Paphos “to stop feeling angry” and “to believe and trust again”. He promises that the municipality will now operate with full transparency.
“My two main aims are to clear the municipality from all of the corruption and to implement structures and procedures to avoid the same terrible things happening in the future.”
Tenders, for example, “will be open to anybody” and awarded to those best qualified for the job. “Gone are the days of carrying out things behind closed doors and making promises in return for money which is being given under the table.”
And he warns: “We will supply all of the information to the police in order to arrest any culprits and stop them and ensure all of the stolen money is clawed back.”
Winning back trust in the municipality through transparency will be a key to restoring the battered pride of the people of Paphos in their town – as well as securing money for its renovation.
Paphos will formally apply for finance from EU funds on Thursday and expects to learn how much has been awarded on March 15.
“We are applying for a total of 22.5 million euros from the EU funds.
I believe we have a good chance of taking around 18-20 million euros and will be left with a relatively small deficit.”
Further funds – 3.2 million euros – are being sought for a separate project to create a pathway, which includes a bridge to connect all of the main archaeological sites in Kato Paphos.
While Fedonos brims with confidence and optimism and wants the public to know that things have changed, he is also realistic about what can be achieved in the remainder of his short-term. It will be impossible, he says, to solve all of Paphos’ problems during his remaining two years in office.
“Paphos needs €100 million or more to undertake various things” and doesn’t have this kind of money.
“But if we start with 20 million, it will encourage investment from the private sector. If we upgrade the centre of the town, investment and renovation of the buildings will be encouraged, this will promote acceleration for development… We need to find our way back to a new era of development in the correct way.”
He also has a refreshing attitude to the ‘poor cousin Paphos complex’, displayed by so many other local officials who constantly moan that their town loses out on state funds and projects which they say are mostly awarded to other towns.
“This situation is 90 per cent our responsibility,” Fedonos says. “Paphos goes to the government or ministry without being properly prepared.
For example, we request three million for a project, the response is- ‘ok do you have architectural plans?’ We reply ‘no.’ ‘Do you have a feasibility study? ‘No.’ And so on. Who is in the wrong? We are; we must be more professional and better informed.”
Fedonos, who studied economics in Athens and has a Masters degree, entered politics in 2002, working as an advisor to DISY MP Costas Constantinou.
He also has experience in the private sector, and two years ago began studying law at Neapolis University in Paphos.
But as mayor, he stresses, “I don’t do anything else, so there is no conflict of interest.”
Fedonos also has a busy home life. His wife Louiza is expecting a son on February 5 and the couple already have a three-and-a-half year-old daughter.