WE ARE ALL very cynical about corruption and the failure of the authorities to do anything about it, resigned to the prospect that, like the Cyprus problem, it will always be with us. Decades of cover-ups, dismissal of allegations, botched investigations and legalistic subterfuge led most people to deduce that the members of our ruling class were so deeply immersed in corruption, from which they benefited politically, socially and financially, they would never take meaningful action to stop it. There is solidarity among the crooks.
Things appear to be changing as the piling up of revelations and arrests seem to suggest. In the three years of the Anastasiades government there have been more convictions in connection with corruption than in the previous 50 years. A former minister and Central Bank governor, a serving mayor, a CyTA chairman, a top AKEL official, municipal councillors from several parties, public employees and union officers have been put in prison and a deputy is currently on trial facing corruption charges. Last weekend, another serving mayor (Larnaca), three senior civil servants, a municipality financial controller and several others were remanded in custody in connection with a variety of corruption related cases.
This week, AKEL, aware that the government would take credit for the unprecedented clean-up, tried to belittle its contribution, saying that independent state officials were responsible for uncovering the briberies. While this may have been correct to an extent, we have to ask, why had similar investigations by state officials not been undertaken under the Christofias government? The bribery and overcharging of the state by contractors were taking place during AKEL’s stint in power as well. How could it when the party of the working people was directly involved in the first scandal uncovered by the current government – Dromolaxia?
In fact it was the investigation into the plundering of the CyTA pension fund on the pretext of the Dromolaxia investment that paved the way for what is happening now. And the man responsible for initiating the investigation was not an independent state official but Interior Minister Socratis Hasikos, who refused to be intimidated by the political/union establishment and pursued the case until suspects were charged in court. He ignored the pressure and personal abuse directed at him by AKEL as they protected their own people who were involved, nor did he give up on the case because politicians usually covered up for each other. Hasikos had the guts to see the case through, setting a glowing example, while AKEL – in a state of shock – lambasted the justice system because the party’s financial controller was sentenced to prison.
Such things never happened in Cyprus in the past and we should also give credit to President Anastasiades for appointing two independent state officials – Odysseas Michaelides as auditor-general and Costas Clerides as attorney-general – with the integrity and moral fibre to wage a war against the corrupt. Clerides prosecuted the deputy AG, a presidential appointee, in connection with his corrupt behaviour, and did not shy away from a public confrontation with Anastasiades about it, something unheard of in the past. As for Michaelides, he has thrown himself into his job with a crusading zeal and has really shaken up the system, showing initiative and commitment to get to the bottom of things. It was his work that exposed the Paphos sewerage scandal for which a mayor was convicted and a deputy is currently on trial. Another good man has joined this team – new Paphos mayor Phedonas Phedonos whose doggedness uncovered the scam that was taking place at the Marathounda landfill and led to the 12 remand orders issued last weekend.
More dodgy dealings are now being investigated, while thanks to the practice of using individuals involved in the scams as prosecution witnesses more of the thieving crooks are being put behind bars. This is a new era for the Cyprus Republic that could deal a big blow to the culture of backhanders and shady deals that have blighted public life since independence. It shows what a few honest men, in positions of power, who refuse to be part of the appallingly corrupt system and its repulsive code of silence could achieve. At last, corrupt politicians, crooked public employees and greedy contractors that have been robbing the taxpayer with impunity for decades can no longer feel either comfortable or secure.