IN THEIR effort to appear caring and sensitive to people’s needs, politicians regularly send mixed signals with regard to respect for the law. For instance, most of the discourse on the foreclosures bill centred on the idea that it would be wrong to penalise people who refused to honour their contractual obligations. While this may have allowed politicians to pose as defenders of ordinary people against the banks, it also implied that the law does not always have to be obeyed.
Some months ago, the mayor of Engomi expressed concerns because the speed cameras on Grivas Dighenis Avenue were catching too many drivers exceeding the speed limit and his municipality had received many complaints. He suggested that the cameras were turned off during the day and switched on only at night-time when young drivers were using the road. In other words, the authorities would turn a blind eye to law-breaking by drivers during the day in order to limit the number of complaints.
Before Christmas, the Energy Regulator announced that the Electricity Authority would not be cutting off the power at the houses of needy families until the end of March. The result was that the number of subscribers who were not paying their electricity bills doubled to 4,000. Again, people seized the opportunity to avoid paying their bills, once they were encouraged by the authorities to break the rules.
This reckless attitude was exhibited by Justice minister Ionas Nicolaou at the House watchdog committee which was discussing the rising number of unpaid fines on Tuesday. The amount of uncollected fines in 2014 was a whopping €203m. While the Auditor-general was discussing ways of collecting the money owed, Nicolaou spoke about the need of the police showing social sensitivity. “The need to collect fines must be viewed through the lens of today’s circumstances, which necessitate a more humane approach,” he told deputies.
But what is the ‘more humane’ approach? Is it not to enforce the law in the case of non-payment of fines? And who decides that circumstances justify the non-implementation of the letter of the law? The justice minister should never take such a position, especially not in public, as this would be interpreted as tacit encouragement for people not to pay their fines. And it will not necessarily be those who are hard up that will ignore their legal obligations, but our fellow citizens who are always looking for an excuse to cheat the authorities. Was the hospital doctor that had 45 unpaid tickets for traffic violations, one of those who could not afford to pay?
Politicians must stop giving mixed signals on the pretext of social sensitivity. The only message they should propagate is that the law must always be respected, regardless of the circumstances. There is little enough respect for the law as things are and we do not need politicians encouraging it as well.