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Our View: Was corruption or incompetence behind land move?

WAS IT incompetence or corruption that led to the leasing of land in Larnaca’s Mackenzie area belonging to a British citizen of Turkish Cypriot origin by the interior ministry? The land features a modern events venue that would have cost many hundreds of thousands of euro to build and equip, but after last month’s ruling by the Larnaca district court the leaseholder has five months to vacate the property and remove any constructions.

How could the interior minister who is the guardian of Turkish Cypriot properties have sanctioned the leasing of the land for an expensive investment? Why had the guardian’s bureaucrats failed to carry out an investigation into the ownership of the land before granting it to the business people that wanted to build an events venue? We would have thought that would have been routine practice for the state service, especially as there were countless Turkish Cypriots who had moved abroad before the invasion and were still entitled to exercise their property rights in the south.

Suspicions there had been dubious dealings were raised by the fact that the land was in a nature protection area inside a residential zone. The leaseholder was therefore granted an exemption to develop the property commercially, which raises more questions about the decision-making of the authorities. Was there really any pressing reason to lease a property for commercial development in a nature protection area inside a residential zone? If the land belonged to the company that wanted to develop it, granting an exemption may have been understandable, but it did not even own the property.

The court awarded damages of €75,000 plus interest to the owner. The taxpayer would have escaped cheaply if that is the full cost of the guardian’s mess-up, but it might not end there. The leaseholder might also take legal action seeking compensation for the investment he had made in the belief that the lease granted was legally sound. It would be very interesting to know how much the lease for the land cost as it would give an indication as to whether this mess was the result of bureaucratic incompetence or dishonesty.

The matter must be investigated, either internally by the interior ministry or by the Auditor-General, to establish whether the correct procedures had been followed and whether the decision to lease the property was justified. It is high time the bureaucrats and politicians who take bad decisions with a cost to the taxpayer are called to account.



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