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OpinionTales from the Coffeeshop

Tales from the Coffeeshop: MP eating songbirds scandal allows Nik to show softer side

Evgenios Hamboullas

YOU HAVE to applaud the DISY deputy Evegenios Hamboullas for his vote-seeking publicity stunt, featuring him at a dining table on which there was a dish containing pourgouri and ambelopoulia. His childish act of rebelliousness may have angered many people but it also provided some welcome light relief at a time of dull and boring news.

You had to laugh at the guy’s crude, but effective self-publicity, which we all thought had disappeared when Dr Madsakis quit politics and became a recluse (we are hoping he will make a comeback if and when the two amigos agree a deal). Nobody had heard of Hamboullas until last Sunday but by Monday he had become an instant celebrity, the law-breaking lawmaker everyone was talking about.

His instant notoriety illustrated the power of social media and also earned him repeated mentions in the foreign press. All hell broke loose after he posted his picture in front of the ambelopoulia and pourgouri dish on his Facebook page with the caption “Soon in our restaurants; happy holidays.”

He did not have to write, ‘I just ate two dozen ambelopoulia, and they keep bringing more,’ or post a picture with a bird on his fork on the way to his mouth to cause uproar. A photo at a table with ambelopoulia in front of him was all that was required to earn his infamy.

As parliamentary elections approach, don’t be surprised to see other Famagusta district candidates desperate for votes doing a Hamboullas being photographed picking a pickled ambelopouli out of a jar as the birds will be out of season in spring.

THE STUNT worked perfectly for Hamboullas. He could not make time to satisfy all the interview requests by TV and radio stations, but he tried to be on as many shows as possible. He had to exploit this golden opportunity and did so very well.

Not only had he given a two-fingered, defiant salute to the hypocrites of the EU that had imposed the ban, but he was also patriotically defending a proud, centuries-old tradition of the country (honour killings next?). He did not stop here in his effort to secure the ambelopouli vote.

He also proposed the repeal of the law and derogation from Brussels, implying we would be successful. This was the message of his caption, “soon in our restaurants,” which was a pretty impressive, empty election promise. He has to say and do everything he can to get elected come May because he cannot again rely on the help of prez Nik, who was instrumental, according to reliable rumours, in Hamboullas’ entry into the legislature.

In the last elections the ‘legalise ambelopoulia’ campaigner failed to win a seat, being edged out by the current defence minister Christoforos Fokaides. Palace insiders claimed that Nik appointed Fokaides defence minister not because he thought he would turn the National Guard into a fearsome liberation army but so he would vacate his parliamentary seat which would go to the next in line – Hamboullas.

The reason Nik did this, according to the scurrilous rumours, was as a favour to his daughters who were good friends with Hamboullas. If this is true, it was very sweet of him and shows what a doting father he is.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL Costas Clerides came under fire from some quarters for failing to prosecute the law-breaking lawmaker especially as the latter had admitted his offence on air and openly invited the authorities to prosecute him. He would not be using his parliamentary immunity to avoid prosecution, he bravely declared.

Clerides thought it was not worth the trouble, telling Tass news agency “the behaviour of the specific deputy is reprehensible and will be judged by the public and not by the court after the lifting of his immunity.” The police had contacted the AG’s office for instructions and was told not to start a criminal investigation.

No explanations were given, but I suspect Clerides did not want the hassle of initiating procedures for the lifting of parliamentary immunity over such a matter, especially as it would be difficult to prove the offence. Could he prove that things in the dish were actually ambelopoulia? They could have been sparrows or models made with play-dough.

And what proof was there that Hamboullas had eaten any? He was not at a restaurant so he would not be culpable if his host served the illegal birds.

Imagine how stupid the AG would look if he went to the trouble to prosecute Hamboullas only to find that things pictured in the plate were not actually ambelopoulia. Unless Hamboullas pleaded guilty in court, becoming a martyr and Paralimni folk hero and thus securing his re-election in May.

Superstar auditor Odysseas Michaelides
Superstar auditor Odysseas Michaelides

PREZ NIK felt duty-bound to become personally involved in the ongoing Odysseus-Socratis scrap. It was not enough that the council of ministers, chaired by Nik, issued a statement on Monday censuring the auditor-general for overstepping his constitutional powers and interfering in the work of the executive, he still felt he needed to contribute personally.

On Tuesday, speaking to hacks about the matter, he adopted a softer line sounding like a benevolent uncle offering his nephew Odysseas some friendly advice. Ultra-sensitive Nik was hurt by the party criticism and attacks in the press over the cabinet statement and decided to tone things down. He also realised that Odysseas is Mr Popular and therefore not a good target for a president that wants to be loved.

There was no question of lack of confidence in the auditor general, he assured the hacks; nor was he interfering in his work. Someone must have whispered to Nik that it would not be good for his public image to fall out publicly with yet another independent state official – he has already rowed with the Central Bank governor and the attorney-general – he had appointed. People might start questioning his choices.

THE AG was also reluctantly dragged into the dispute after Hasikos decided to forward three cases he felt proved that Odysseas was exceeding his powers. The government wanted the AG to give an opinion. What was the point, considering the council of ministers had issued its verdict before having forwarded the cases to the AG?
Now the government faces the embarrassment of being told by Clerides that Odysseas had done nothing wrong.

Odysseas, who issued a long-winded response after the cabinet statement, is also becoming a bit insufferable, perched on his moral peak and acting like he is on a divine mission, answerable only to a higher power.

He takes himself so seriously, he complained in his written rant about ministers’ remarks that “tend to mock the auditor-general personally such as references to superstars, emperors, cannibals, etc.” He should lighten up and be grateful that he has attained superstardom and imperial status from auditing, one of the most unglamorous and boring jobs imaginable, invariably performed by nerds.

THE UPGRADING of Kyproulla’s geo-strategic role that has been peddled by our illustrious foreign ministry officials as a major advantage in need of exploitation has not lasted very long. The news that Turkey and Israel are heading for normalisation of their relations will also have disappointed the newspaper columnists and rejectionists who argued that our developing alliance with Israel would alter the power balance in the region.

There were even reports that the two countries discussed the possibility of Israel selling gas to Turkey, which must have come as a big blow to our regional energy designs and plans. The next step must be for Prez Nik to organise a tripartite summit of Israel, Turkey and Kyproulla in order to preserve our upgraded geo-strategic role in the region.

NIKOS Katsourides, the veteran Akelite deputy who was indefinitely suspended by the commie

Will Kats forgo his retirement bonus?
Will Kats forgo his retirement bonus?

leadership last May for reasons that were never made public made a speech about the Cyprob during the House budget debate. More of a hardliner than his comrades, Kats did not toe the pro-settlement line of the party in his speech, which is probably why Phil gave it such extensive coverage.

This was the last budget debate for Kats as he will not be standing for re-election. However we hear that his suspension from the party will end in April and there are sound financial reasons for this. By returning to AKEL, the party would be able to take the retirement bonus that would be paid to Kats for his service as a deputy. It will be a hefty amount, probably in the region of 300 grand as he has been a deputy for a couple of decades.

The party always takes its deputies’ retirement bonuses as well as a part of their monthly salary. Whether crafty Kats would agree to surrender his bonus after the way he was treated by his comrades remains to be seen. What can they do to him if he does not? Suspend him again?

WE SAW the human face of the co-ops once again this week when staff staged a 48-hour strike Thursday and Friday to protest against management’s decision not to sign the collective agreement it had agreed in principle with unions.
The strike was called by the militant bank employees’ union ETYK and was publicly attacked by everyone including the PEO and SEK unions. Apparently some ETYK members have sued the Co-operative Central bank demanding wage increments and CoLA for 2014 and 2015 when a wage freeze was in place. Management fearing that if the workers win the case it would have to pay all staff, has refused to sign the new collective agreement.

The co-op workers have a nerve. The taxpayer paid €1.5 billion to save the bankrupt co-ops, no employees were sacked and pay cuts were much smaller than those imposed on most private sector workers, but still they feel hard done by.

THE GOOD news is that the government will put the co-op bank up for sale in order to recoup some of the taxpayer’s money. This has provoked a big reaction from all our state-control-supporting parties which have vowed to fight the ‘sell-off’ of the co-op central bank. However they have mentioned nothing about selling off the “public wealth” as they have been doing in the case of CyTA and EAC. Their concern is that the co-op will lose its “social face” if it is taken over by an investor. It is this social face that cost us €1.5 billion.

WE SHOULD not complain because it is our fault bank employees are so hideously greedy and selfish. Three banks were bankrupt in 2013. Laiki was beyond saving, the Bank of Cyprus was saved by bailing in its shareholders and its customers’ deposits while the co-ops were given 1.5 billion by the taxpayer.

None of the employees of these banks was made redundant and they suffered the smallest cuts, on high wages, in the economy. Their union even forced the government not to impose a hair-cut on the bank employees’ provident fund money that was deposited in Laiki and BoC.

Now contrast this treatment with the Helios tragedy orphans that lost most of the money from insurance payments that was deposited in Laiki and BoC. There were no exemptions for the orphans as there had been for bank employees.
Now the government has decided to pay some of the money lost by the 30 orphans in the haircut but it has not decided how much. I bet if the unfortunate children were bank employees they would have been fully reimbursed.

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