By Elias Hazou
THERE APPEARS to be no end in sight to the domestic debacle over the foreclosures law, with opposition parties set this week to reconfirm its suspension which they passed a fortnight ago.
AKEL, DIKO, EDEK and the Greens have said they will reject the president’s referral of the suspension law when the matter comes up before the plenum on Thursday.
At the end of January the opposition pushed through the House a bill suspending in its entirety the enforcement of repossessions-related legislation, until March 2.
President Nicos Anastasiades subsequently refused to sign off and sent the bill back to parliament. The president cites the economic risks to Cyprus from not complying with the terms of the bailout programme as a result of non-implementation of foreclosures.
During a joint session of the House interior affairs and finance committees on Monday, the same parties vowed to continue blocking foreclosures until such time as a safety net for borrowers and mortgagors, the so-called insolvency framework – a set of laws governing bankruptcy – has been enacted.
Labour Minister Zeta Emilianidou, deputising for the finance minister who was in Brussels attending the Eurogroup meeting, appealed to MPs not to insist on blocking repossessions.
She suggested an alternative – exempting only primary residences from repossessions until March 31.
By then, she said, the fifth and last bill comprising the insolvency framework should come to parliament, thus satisfying the opposition’s demands.
Non-compliance with the bailout programme meant Cyprus could not borrow from the markets or be eligible for the European Central Bank’s quantitative easing programme, Emilianidou noted.
Weighing in, Andreas Charalambous, a senior finance ministry official, told deputies that the fifth insolvency bill – relating to personal bankruptcy – could be tabled to the House “realistically” by the week after next.
The draft was ready, he said, but the document has yet to be green-lighted by the troika of lenders. Cyprus’ international creditors have flagged a clause which lets off the hook guarantors of bad debt.
In a written statement issued later, DIKO leader and chairman of the House finance committee Nicholas Papadopoulos said the government has been unable to guarantee that the troika will agree to a temporary exemption of primary homes from repossession proceedings.
“Do we have the president’s assurance that this suggestion will not stymie the bailout programme? Unless we have a clear position on this, we cannot take a stance,” Papadopoulos said.
Opposition parties say their motive is to protect the man on the street, warning that enforcement of the foreclosures law will open the floodgates to repossessions of homes and small business premises.
But as the Mail has earlier reported, Central Bank data shows that loans taken out on owner-occupied housing account for just 14 per cent of all debt in arrears.
And this weekend, Politis reported that €5.26bn – half of Bank of Cyprus’ non-performing loans – are held by just 30 big debtors representing 45 companies.
The data strongly suggests that primary residences are not top of the banks’ priority list in chasing down bad debtors.