By Angelos Anastasiou
Cypriot parliamentarians continue to enjoy obscenely generous privileges that need to be re-evaluated as everyone else in Cyprus has had to suffer pay cuts and even job losses due to the ongoing financial crisis, Auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides has told Finance minister Harris Georgiades in a letter.
In terms of earnings, deputies are paid a host of added allowances to their basic monthly gross salary of €3,640 – €1,945 a month for on-the-job expenses, €1,025 per month for secretarial services, plus €683 each month for travel expenses, regardless of where they live.
According to Michaelides, with the exception of the travel expense allowance, the sum total of the above – €6,611 per month – are pensionable earnings.
This translates to a monthly €513 pension bump, as well as a €28,704 tax-free lump-sum payable upon retirement, for deputies who served at least two tenures.
Additionally, double-tenure deputies are entitled to a monthly €973 pension boon and €55,000 lump-sum benefit on retirement, linked to their monthly expense allowance.
In his letter, the auditor-general singled out “a former House president” – former DIKO leader Marios Garoyian, though not named in the letter – who continues to receive a monthly €3,019 for the employment of a personal secretary, as well as the standard €1,025 for secretarial services because he is still a sitting deputy.
Michaelides recommended the discontinuance of the double secretarial benefit, unless it is incorporated into the former speaker’s salary.
Travel expenses paid out indiscriminately were also scrutinised by Michaelides.
The €683-a-month perk is paid to every parliamentarian for showing up at the House in the capital, regardless of whether he or she has to drive there from Paphos, Famagusta, or a Nicosia suburb.
Perversely, this benefit is paid even when the House is not in session – the parliament is closed for 20 days during Christmas, another 20 at Easter, and two months in the summer.
Even more bizarrely, the benefit is paid out irrespective of whether deputies actually ever show up at the House – at plenary or committee sessions.
The Auditor General’s recommendation is for deputies living outside Nicosia to be eligible for this benefit, which should be linked to the distance deputies have to travel, as well as the frequency of their presence in parliament.
The 56 Cypriot deputies – plus three non-voting representatives of religious groups – do not pay social insurance contributions like everyone else. In his letter, the auditor-general noted that “deputies are considered self-employed for purposes of contributions to social insurance as many also practice another profession”.
He pointed out that the law makes no mention to the issue of deputies’ contributions to social insurance, and therefore the issue should be tackled by the Social Insurance and the State Treasury departments.
Taxpayers are also saddled with almost €7 million per year in government grants to political parties. Specifically, the government pays €27,000 for the contribution of Cypriot parties to European Union political formations. Each of the six parliamentary parties also receives an annual state grant of €148,000 a year, and the additional sum of €3,195,222 is split among them according each party’s share of the popular vote.
The state also shoulders the cost of €2,749,000 per annum to pay for “parliamentary associates” – assistants chosen by each deputy.
“In light of the above, we ask that your ministry reviews the above issues immediately,” Michaelides asked the Finance minister.