Cyprus Mail
Guest Columnist Opinion

Expats could be so much more than just cash cows

Stelios Haji-loannou

Reader’s letter: Editor’s choice

By Peter G Davis

Cyprus may have Greeks and Turks, but what about a third group of residents, the expats from various countries?

When I moved here 15 years ago British expats were contributing £2.4bn Cyprus (€3.96bn) to the island’s economy every year, money which provided jobs for people. Many of these expats have now returned home because they didn’t find in Cyprus what they were looking for.

When I moved to Cyprus like many others I bought a home. I became part of the community and helped my adopted country. Today I regard myself as Cypriot, notwithstanding that my roots were originally in Africa. Yet there are many who still see me as a foreigner, even though I have lived in Cyprus for more years than many children who attend lyceum. Will I still be ‘the stranger’ in the graveyard?  My financial contribution to Cyprus is ‘new money’ a source of wealth on which the Cypriot government permits me to pay income tax and various other taxes, whilst being denied the right to vote in elections.

I find that many businesses are happy to overcharge me as a norm. The difference between my income and local money is easily explained. Many years ago I was told a story about a businessman who went into a hotel and provisionally booked a room for himself and his wife for an overnight stay. He left a €100 deposit, refundable if the room was cancelled. The hotel used the €100 to pay a farmer whose produce they used in the kitchen, the farmer then used the €100 to pay for fuel for his tractor. The petrol station manger being €100 richer used the €100 to take his wife for a meal to the hotel. Four days later the businessman returned to the hotel cancelled the booking and his deposit of €100 was refunded. So where was the value to the country?  And yet we look to ‘domestic tourism’ to fill the hotels which the government says will help the economy.  It’s a bit like a drowning man pulling himself up by his own collar.

What we need is investment from overseas. We must create an atmosphere where businesses want to be in Cyprus because they can make a profit. Yet what I see is envy and avarice.

Some years ago the Americans were in crisis, the Russians who they considered a backward nation had overtaken them and put a satellite into earth’s orbit. As a result, a survey was conducted to see what was wrong. The results were an awakening.  American boards were led by white, middle-aged males all thinking and acting the same with the same set of values. In the 1960s a man called Meredith Belbin showed that what was needed were different thinkers, from different backgrounds who were willing to challenge established theories. We have the same with our parliament. Kick one of our ministers and they all walk with a limp. I would go as far as saying we don’t need a president, but we should have a sheriff.  At the head of every cowboy outfit is a sheriff.  I had high hopes when President Nicos Anastasiades was elected. Yet recently he went to Russia and on his return said the three natural friends of Cyprus are the Russians, Chinese and French. The following day the Cyprus Tourism Organisation was talking about opening an office in America and days later came the comment that British tourists were returning. In the latest release of a €1bn bond, two thirds was purchased by the British. Why do we as a nation insist on abusing our customers?

What we need are expats in our government and most certainly they should be allowed to vote. We have gone part way with this, the Russian members on the BOC board and the appointment of John Hourican, but it is not far enough.

In Britain 230,000 Cypriot voters were allowed to vote in the election this year, many Cypriots have found their fortune in businesses overseas such as Stelios Haji-loannou, and no one in the UK would regard any of these Cypriots as ‘foreigners’. Not that I’m suggesting that expats are the complete answer to our problems. You only have to look at the corruption under Blair, the incompetence of Brown or socialism under Cameron.

None of these are good examples to follow, but with a divergent Cabinet it must be better than what we now have in Cyprus.  Here our ministers can’t even make a decision on free government limos, whilst in England the prime minister and mayor of London cycle to work on a bike.

With expats as ministers there are no pre-conceptions of the bad Turks, the extended family or the easy payment under the counter. The government could also rely on a broader election base, and not rely on unions dictating policy. In my village I see people who are really poor, who support the life style of those in government office. There is no shame just an expectation to retain the status quo as a way of life. We will still be like this in 50 years’ time unless something changes us.

I know there will be many who will disagree and even object, but the expats can help Cyprus and should not just be the Cash Cow they are at the moment.

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