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Doubts that conflict of interest can be satisfactorily regulated

By Elias Hazou

THE HOUSE ethics committee will be distributing to the political parties a memo regarding the incompatibility of functions of public officials, chairman Demetris Syllouris said yesterday.

The 45-page memo, prepared with help from outside consultants, outlines the legislation in place governing incompatibility and conflict of interest, and proposes tweaks.

According to Syllouris, whereas the existing legal framework is adequate overall, at the same time it contains shortcomings. These would be addressed in a new bill to be drafted by parliament, complementing and bolstering current laws. The same bill will also address the issue of public contracts.

One weakness, the MP said, is that current laws do not explicitly define incompatibility and conflict of interest, and as a result the two concepts are often conflated.

One matter needing to be sorted out, said Syllouris, is making a distinction between actual conflict of interest, apparent conflict and potential conflict.

Speaking to reporters, the MP said the committee is considering a proposal for separating public officials into four categories, in terms of the rules applying to conflict of interest.
Civil servants might form a fifth category, he added.

Another matter relates to independent public officials, who under the Constitution cannot be audited while they hold office.

During a recent television show on the state broadcaster, Syllouris had expressed doubts as to whether conflict of interest can be satisfactorily regulated, due to its complexity.

To make his point, he had posed the rhetorical question as to whether MPs should be barred from voting on anything related to fuel prices, since they themselves are consumers.

His ‘argument’ was promptly beaten down by former Attorney-general Alecos Markides, who called it sophistry. Markides retorted that rules on conflict of interest apply where a specific group may be affected, and not the entire population, where everyone needs to fill up the gas tank.

The issue of conflict of interest regained traction recently in the wake of allegations that MPs were stymieing laws relating to property foreclosures because many of them are indebted to banks.

Regardless of the allegations, it did not help the deputies’ image that they had failed to disclose their financial statements, despite a parliamentary regulation requiring them to do so.

Asset declaration is a key component of transparency in the public service. The House legal affairs committee is currently working on such a bill, but it will not be ready before summer.

Daily Politis reports that over the years lawmakers have passed over 30 laws concerning incompatibility and conflicts of interest, featuring several contradictory clauses.

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