By George Koumoullis
ON A SPRING day in 1980, the press secretary of Britain’s Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher entered her office obviously shaken and told the ‘iron lady’ – according to her official biographer Charles Moore – that the trade unions had decided not to accept any privatisations or cuts to their ‘acquired rights’. On hearing this announcement Thatcher frowned and, banging her hand on her desk, said wrathfully: “To hell with them. It’s about time they realised that a PM is elected to govern, not be governed.”
How different Cyprus would be if our president could be injected with Thatcher’s decisiveness. Nicos Anastasiades gives the impression that what interests him, above everything else, is his popularity and to be loved by everyone so he can reap the rewards in the next elections. To be fair, it is not only the Anastasiades government that seeks popularity at any cost.
All governments since the invasion, have misled, deceived, mocked and lied to the refugees so that they could be re-elected. In the final analysis, these calculated lies constitute a heinous political and moral crime against all Cypriots.
The recent passing of former defence minister Costas Papacostas underlines (if any underlining were needed) Anastasiades’ lack of courage and his inability to take a decision that might be unpopular. Papacostas’ family, justifiably, requested his release from prison, where he was serving time for his involvement in the Mari explosion because of the lasting damage caused to his health.
In such cases the granting of a pardon is the prerogative of the president of republic, but in this case, contrary to his feelings of compassion, he rejected the Papacostas family’s request because of the strong reaction from the relatives of the Mari victims. He chose to be governed, not govern, as Thatcher would say.
It is recognised by all (except some teachers) that the appointment of teachers to state secondary schools based on their position in the waiting list for appointees is anachronistic as it completely ignores the qualifications, related experience and possible psychological problems of the candidates. The cost of the insistence on this recruitment policy is paid by Cypriot society which is forced to maintain the so-called problematic teachers. To end this practice, the ministry of education, through relentless efforts, managed to put together a new recruitment system so that the most capable graduates would be hired via an honest and meritocratic procedure. Under pressure from teaching unions, however, Anastasiades gave in, and the new law will not be fully enforced before 2027.
Cyprus is the only country in the EU that does not have a national health system. But as we all know, for the past 14 years the many different vested interests have not allowed the completion and introduction of the National Health Scheme. As a result of the delays and the prevarication tolerated by the president, the trials and tribulations of many patients will continue.
Much has been written about the compensation (what a euphemism) of €30 million to be paid to the Limassol dock workers to end their monopolistic rights. I do not need to repeat them.
Even more ridiculous though is the guarantee of employment for life granted to CyTA employees so that they accept privatisation. If some insane buyer is found he will, for sure, impose higher prices because of the high labour costs. Anastasiades’ failure to clash with the unions translates into a huge economic loss, the bill for which will be picked up by the Cypriot taxpayer.
The most worrying thing is that Anastasiades’ hesitancy, fear, procrastination and lack of boldness could also destroy the peace talks. Under the pressure of the local fundamentalists, who cannot, or pretend they cannot, understand that a bizonal, bicommunal federation (BBF) is the only achievable solution (I dare anyone to dispute this) there is the danger he will harden his stance at the talks. We are reminded of this very frequently by the gracious government spokesman who does everything he can not to confront the fundamentalists. Instead of strenuously defending the government policy, he is constantly trying to re-assure the opponents of BBF, namely the champions of de jure partition (even if they do not officially admit it), who know that Anastasiades would never censure them let alone denounce them.
I would like to finish with a piece of advice to the president from Margaret Thatcher, who, speaking in the House of Commons three decades ago, said: “If you set out to be liked, you would be prepared to compromise on anything at any time, and you would achieve nothing.”
George Koumoullis is an economist and social scientist