By George Koumoullis
THE RECENT persecution of a liberal, pro-rapprochement teacher at the English School on the pretext of “improper behaviour” towards a colleague brings to light the scandalous and Palaeolithic procedure followed when appointing boards of directors at public organisations – a procedure that is a parody and a mockery of democracy.
When Nicos Anastasiades was elected president, he announced amid great fanfare that from then on all public organisations would be administered by “the best of the best”, because those were the ones the government would appoint as board directors. All of us, who did not have any party connections, took a deep breath and said: “At last! The time has come for Cyprus to be modernised and become meritocratic.”
Alas, within a few days, we had tangible examples of the promised meritocratic criteria being abandoned. The Cypriot state remains one of nepotistic orgies, egotistical, heartless, erratic clientelism, while, as a consequence, it pushes citizens/clients to bribe, lie, beg in order to secure appointments, promotions, upgrades and/or favourable secondments. In other words, for as long as the appointments to public organisations based on party criteria are perpetuated, the clientelism in public life will continue and the heavy industry of rusfeti will remain untouched with catastrophic consequences for the country’s productivity and the debasement of solidarity and social justice.
What I find even more astonishing is the cluelessness, in relation to the activities of an organisation, that many members appointed on boards have. A little while ago, a dentist was appointed board chairman of the Electricity Authority of Cyprus. Possibly, in his field, this dentist may have excelled, but what does excellence in dentistry have to do with the provision of a vital utility such as electricity? The big mystery was resolved by the revelation that said dentist was a very close friend of the DIKO leader.
Another example is the 11 members of the English School’s board of management. With one or two exceptions the members have no clue about educational matters and as everyone knows, the school has become a DIKO fiefdom. The chairperson of the board, who owes her position to her hard-line politics, expresses her gratitude by having the picture of Tassos Papadopoulos on the wall of her office, feeling no shame for the politicisation of the school.
The hard-line stance of the rejectionist parties is reflected in the Sybilline slogan “the English School is Greek”, in the non recognition of the Bayram holiday and the unwillingness of Turkish Cypriot students to mix with Greek Cypriot students during break-time. This is the tragic state to which they have reduced a school that had once prided itself on the harmonious co-existence of all its students, regardless of religion or origins.
If tomorrow (alright, in four or five centuries) we had the resources to set up our own version of NASA, I would not be surprised if the wife of X was appointed to its board because X is an important member of party Z, even if she confused Kronos (Saturn) with Kornos when space expeditions were being discussed. For all these reasons the slogan, about the “best of the best”, sounds like a sarcastic reproach of Anastasiades.
What is even more depressing is that public opposition to this shabby practice of appointments to boards of public organisations ranges from lukewarm to non-existent. Some sociologists attribute this apathy to our tendency to copy everything that comes from Greece and this mimicry has caused us plenty of problems.
We all know that the American dream is based on the belief that hard work will lead to a better life. Greeks, and by extension Cypriots, do not embrace such nonsense. Their dream is for their children, immediately after they complete university, to secure through the necessary connections (also known as rusfeti) a job in the public sector so they can live a prosperous, secure and carefree life, even if their productivity is poor or zero. This is, or at least had been until the economic meltdown, the Cyprus dream. Should we wonder why we are paying through the nose to have an over-bloated state?
What is urgently needed is a reconstruction from the foundations of public organisations. Privatisation per se, would deal a fatal blow to the rusfeti industry as the private investor will not appoint the clueless, but only the “best of the best” because that will maximise his profits.
As regards the rest of the organisations, I think everyone would agree with the idea of setting up an independent body responsible for appointing directors based on three criteria: 1) all appointees would be independent of the parties; 2) they would be morally unimpeachable – whiter than white; and 3) their qualifications and/or expertise in management should command the respect of the public.
Such a reform would substantially weaken the clientelism sponsored by the parties and possibly signal the beginning of the end of the cancer known as rusfeti.
George Koumoullis is an economist and social scientist