By Elias Hazou
Lawmakers on Tuesday flagged a clause in the new Political Parties Law (PPL) that proposes a new independent official to monitor party financing.
MPs are wary of who gets to audit them under the soon-to-be-amended legislation. They are none too keen on a clause stipulating the establishment of a ‘Commissioner for Political Parties’. Their main argument against: they don’t want to burden the state payroll by creating a new position as existing institutions can do the job.
As it stands, the government bill provides for the replacement of the current Commissioner of the Political Parties’ Register – a function currently administered by the permanent secretary of the interior ministry – by a Commissioner for Political Parties.
The Commissioner for Political Parties, an independent official, would be appointed for five years directly by, and answerable to the President of the Republic. The Commissioner of the Political Parties’ Register would only retain registration functions.
The creation of a new independent office is a suggestion of the European Council’s Group of States against Corruption committee — also known as GRECO.
In its latest report on Cyprus, GRECO said: “While acknowledging that this issue is beyond the scope of the recommendation, GRECO remains concerned by the continuous involvement of the Commissioner of the Political Parties’ Register in the external monitoring of political financing.
“Under the new PPL, she/he still acts as a depository of the parties’ financial statements, transmits them to the Auditor-General, and imposes fines on political parties based on the findings and orders of the Auditor-General.
“GRECO already stressed that the Commissioner appointed by the Minister of the Interior, could not be regarded as sufficiently removed from the Government to meet the requirements of independence… For this reason, GRECO renews its calls to the authorities to set up a fully independent monitoring system of political financing in Cyprus.”
Instead, MPs want the existing Commissioner of the Political Parties’ Register to work with the Auditor-General in determining matters such as what fines to impose on parties for breaking the law.
Nicos Nicolaides (EDEK), chairman of the house ethics committee, told reporters that whatever arrangement MPs settle on, it would ensure transparency in party funding, adding that “Cyprus will be beyond reproach.”
The committee will discuss the final draft of the new PPL on June 16, on which date they will also look at other open issues, such as organisations affiliated to political parties and anonymous donations.
The draft law amending the PPL mandates, states among others, that “political parties and affiliated organisations shall, by 28 February each year, furnish to the Commissioner for political parties and make available online, the identity of natural or legal persons who have made a donation, as well as the amounts concerned where these exceed annually a €500 threshold.
“Failure to publish this information within the above deadline attracts criminal liability for the recipient (a pecuniary fine of up to three times the amount of donations which have not been published can be imposed by the criminal court).”
According to GRECO, authorities here “have also confirmed that the concept of donations is to be understood broadly and includes any monetary and non-monetary (or benefit-in-kind) form of support. The draft also provides that concerning political parties and affiliated organisations entered into the Registry (of political parties), all the information concerning donations above €500 (amount, identity of donor) would be available at the Office of the Commissioner for Political Parties, for information of the public.”
The ethics committee aims to table the PPL legislation to the House plenum before the summer recess.
The full GRECO report can be found here: http://www.coe.int/t/dghl/monitoring/greco/evaluations/round3/GrecoRC3(2015)1_Second_Cyprus