By Evie Andreou
THE Cyprus Potato Marketing Board (CPMB) is ready to hand over its tasks to the private sector under the condition that the government transfers the assets of its packaging plant to the new private marketers to help them stay afloat, the head of the CPMB Michalis Lytras said on Thursday.
Dismissing press reports that the recent cabinet decision which extends the operation of the CPMB for another year, favours a certain family, he said that there is no ‘potato dynasty’ running the local produce exports.
The CPMB was established in 1964 as a semi-government organisation tasked to promote local potato produce to international markets. In 2004, when Cyprus joined the EU, the potato market was liberalised and the government had ruled that the CPMB was to be closed down by June 2015.
To date, the CPMB, which cooperates with 70 per cent of the island’s potato producers, undertakes production planning, assumes costs for packaging, shipping and marketing of local potatoes and pays growers once their produce is sold.
Following a suggestion by Agriculture minister Nicos Kouyialis, according to reports, the cabinet recently approved the extension of the CPMB’s operations for another year, since the only licensed private organisation that is to undertake the same tasks, the Pancyprian potato growers group (POP), does not yet have the financial capacity to assume this responsibility.
But the head of the POP’s board, Charalambos Anastasiou, is currently working as a contract staffer at the CPMB, in order to learn the trade, while his father, Antonis Anastasiou is the deputy chair of the organisation, thus “assigning” according to reports, “to a specific family the transfer of the tasks of the CPMB to the POP”.
The same reports also claimed that the CPMB, which during the last three years is not accountable to any state service since it does not receive government funding anymore, has however, mortgaged government property – its packaging plant in Larnaca – to secure loans to continue operations, is reportedly another discrepancy taking place under the blessing of the government.
“This is a very inaccurate report. The CPMB has for the last seven years been a non-profit self-funded semi-government organisation. The Larnaca packaging plant, including another one in the occupied part of Famagusta, is the property of the organisation, it does not belong to the state,” Lytras told the Cyprus Mail.
He said that the CPMB mortgages its own property as it needs around €2m to €3m each year to be able to pay administrative expenses and the costs for the marketing, packaging and shipment of the potato production. After they sell the produce, they pay the producers and they use the rest to repay loans.
“When the CPMB is dissolved, then its property will be considered as public, but we are trying to avert that. Potatoes are one of the country’s most important exports. If the government takes the plant and producers are not able to use it, then potato production will collapse,” Lytras said.
He added that the CPMB has proposed that the packaging plant is given to the private potato marketing companies and that Kouyialis pledged to present a plan within the next two months.
As regards to nepotism, he said that Anastasiou junior has been the head of POP for a number of years, and that it is POP, which represents around 900 potato producers that suggested for him to work at the CPMB in order to learn the trade, so that the private organisation has some experience on how to market their produce on their own.
“We buy services from POP. It just so happens that the person they chose to work with us, his father, is a board member of the CPMB,” Lytras said.
He added that POP will not be the only private potato marketing association, since another producers’ association is in the process of being set up.