By George Koumoullis
THE RECENT show of contempt for the law by DISY deputy Evgenios Hamboullas, once again, raises the issue of parliamentary immunity.
The antics of the deputy – being pictured with a dish of ambelopoulia on the table in front of him – should have caused an earthquake at the top of the Richter scale on the political scene and in Cypriot society because such behaviour was aimed at establishing the law of absolute lawlessness, the justice of absolute injustice and the morality of absolute immorality.
What happened though? The political parties (with the exception of DISY which issued a lukewarm announcement about “respect of national law”) expressed their objection in muted way while most other groups kept quiet. To their credit, a few journalists dared to take a stand and censure the conduct of the deputy. Perhaps, the historian of the future would write, “Never before in the history of Cyprus have so many failed to stand up, united against so few law-breakers, multi-potent and greedy.”
Let us examine, however, this notorious parliamentary immunity that exists in Cyprus. First, we should recognise that parliamentary immunity is a feature of all democracies but varies in scope from country to country. Why though is some form of immunity considered necessary for the safeguarding of democracy? This necessity is attributed to the following reasons: a) to secure the independence of the legislature; b) to protect legislators from all type of prosecutions by the organs of the executive authority, members of the electorate and their political rivals.
It is important for a deputy to be able to speak freely without the fear of being sued by anyone and this is in the public interest. If the above two requirements are not satisfied parliamentary immunity is not justified in any way. In other words, there should be no immunity for a deputy that breaks the law when this action has nothing to do with the performance of his parliamentary duties. This is the prevailing view in countries with a long democratic tradition such as the US, France and Britain.
In Cyprus, however, we insist on being ‘third world’ as our deputies enjoy immunity even when committing offences punishable by law. This is why, for example, if a deputy is driving his car at a speed higher than the legal speed limit or is smoking inside a public building or is an accessory to the trapping and consumption of ambelopoulia he knows he is covered by parliamentary immunity, an usually – we are talking about Cyprus! – he couldn’t care less.
For this immunity to be lifted it would take a long-drawn out procedure, requiring the approval of the Supreme Court, the attorney-general having first to prepare a case to back the request. It would take forever.
In short, Cypriot deputies are possessed by an obsolete unionist attitude (of which even PASYDY would be envious) focused on their personal and not the public interest. In the pursuit of this they circumvent the principle of equality before the law, the cornerstone of democracy. And unfortunately, this wounding of democracy is owed, to a large extent, to the passiveness of the attorney-general.
I would like to make it clear that I do not doubt at all the absolute honesty and integrity of the attorney-general. What I take exception to and criticise is his failure to put into motion the procedure for the lifting of parliamentary immunity which enables a caste of people to have a happy and affluent life as well as the illegal enjoyment of mythical, kitsch dinners featuring ambelopoulia and assorted other offences.
A well-known female deputy, a few months ago, reported a colleague for smoking inside the legislature and had a photograph of him doing so as evidence. This constituted a violation of the criminal – not the civil – law code. To put it more simply, the case was Deputy X versus the Cyprus Republic and not Deputy X versus Deputy Y. Unfortunately, the attorney-general did nothing.
But when a deputy is not prosecuted for a blatant violation of the law, what message is being sent to citizens? And what State are we proud of? Should we wonder why there is a rising trend of law-breaking in relation to smoking in a public places?
The more recent example was the blatant law-breaking by Hamboullas. Once again the attorney-general did nothing, confirming in this way that deputies are above the law. It makes me wonder how all those who were found guilty and made to pay fines for the illegal trapping of ambelopoulia feel?
The attorney-general should know that the hushing up of blatantly obvious illegalities says much more than all the big words. Not only does it not cover up the illegalities, but it also reveals the weaknesses, awkwardness and fear of responsibility of the “modest silent one”, while also contributing, to a large degree, to the consolidation of third world culture.
George Koumoullis is an economist and social scientist