By George Koumoullis
Shocking conclusions can be reached by examining the profile of the average Cypriot deputy.
First, he works the fewest hours when compared to his European colleagues. Taking into account the participation of deputies in committees and their visits to their constituencies to discuss local issues, the average European MP works between 35 and 40 hours a week, while the Cypriot one works between five and eight hours.
Second, he is the highest paid MP in Europe and probably in the world, if the measure is his hourly rate, which is the correct way to calculate it. In an article I had published in Politis (December 30, 2014) called ‘The tragic picture of the legislature’, I proved mathematically that the hourly rate of the Cypriot MP was about 450 per cent higher than that of his British counterpart.
Third, Cypriot deputies are the pillars of the corrupt links of the parties that are euphemistically known as ‘customer relations’. Every weekend, deputies tour every corner of the country to meet friends-supporters at weddings, christening and other social gatherings. In the frenzy of mutual greetings, social niceties, compliments, back-patting and praising, the national fathers distribute fakelakia (small envelopes with money) and give promises about all types of rusfeti in exchange for their economically valuable support in the next elections.
Fourth, there is a problem with their image that has a negative impact on society. The overriding impression among the public is that the main concern of politicians – therefore of deputies as well – is not the recovery of the economy, the restoration of values, the elimination of corruption (which is like never-ending avalanche), but their greed for acquiring everything and living opulently and ostentatiously.
Fifth, anyone following the sessions of the House plenum will be disappointed to discover that they are not illuminated by the wise, serious and subtle solemnity of the deputies. Instead, some will be chatting to each other, others yawning and still others whispering into the mobile phones.
Sixth, while legislatures in Europe meet daily for seven to eight hours (the House of Commons in the UK, for example, is in session Monday to Friday from 2.30pm to 10.30pm) our House of Representatives convenes on Thursday afternoon for three or four hours. This very little time allocated to the discussion of bills, deprives capable deputies of the opportunity to give an intelligent address and distinguish themselves while covers up the mediocrity of many deputies who would never be able to give a speech. In Europe the maiden speech of a newly elected deputy is usually awaited with great interest as careers are often built or destroyed by it. This might sound unbelievable, but in Cyprus there are many deputies who have never managed to give even a short speech to the House. If foreign political observers ever looked into this phenomenon they would be left speechless by the speechlessness of many of our representatives.
And as if all this that diminishes the standing of the legislature were not enough, some deputies have disappointed and embittered the people with their unlawful actions which trivialise, denigrate, shame and cause disarray to the parties to which they belong as well as to the House. At last, the immunity of one deputy has been lifted and his case for several violations of the speed limit is now before court. It appears he will be found guilty, unless he manages to prove that the police radar equipment was negatively biased towards him.
Two other deputies were photographed (as has been confirmed by police) by a colleague smoking in the ‘Lemesos’ room of the legislature, while one of them was also mouthing sexist abuse. And what good can be said about the deputy who used Facebook to publicise his gastronomic preference for the illegal, yet lucrative, songbird.
In a country with a democratic tradition, these deputies would have been struck off by their parties or at least marginalised because there is no greater illegality, hypocrisy and inconsistency than lawmakers displaying disregard for the laws they have made. Here though, not only has their party failed to expel them, but their names feature prominently in the party’s ticket for the May elections, as if there was no anomaly.
Our deputies are not crowned by divine decree, but are elected by the people so we will soon have the opportunity to give a lesson in democracy, not only to the problematic deputies but also to the parties that scandalously protect them. The voters know very well which deputies are guilty of dereliction of duty and should punish them in the May elections. If we fail in this, we will have no right to lament the abject level of our deputies because we would have been the architects of this abjection.
The long-term aim must be upgrading political behaviour and improving the qualitative and quantitative work of deputies and this would require a change in the intellectual, cultural and ideological standards of the House of Representatives. In view of the peace talks and the possible, radical change of the legislature, perhaps this debate should be left for a later stage.
I think it would be a serious omission not to praise the ethos, hard work, tenacity, ability, understanding, education and dignity of some deputies who shine at the legislature. Unfortunately, they are a very small minority and do not alter the overall profile of the representative representative.
George Koumoullis is an economist and social scientist