A COUPLE of weeks ago, we were very pleasantly surprised to read a report that a newly-elected Disy deputy, Onoufrios Koulla, had written to the accountant-general telling her that he does not want to be paid the state pension he was entitled to after leaving the civil service to take his seat in parliament. “Given that I am 42 years of age, I must say I find this extremely surprising,” Koulla said in his letter.
He is the first, former public employee to find this absurd law, which entitled a civil servant to collect a pension while being paid a very respectable salary by the taxpayer as deputy, “extremely surprising”. The president and three serving ministers pay their monthly pensions into the social support fund, while the attorney-general pays his into the government’s consolidated fund, but they are the exceptions. Some 52 former public employees appealed against a law suspending their monthly pension while in public office and collecting a salary from the state and won – the law was deemed unconstitutional, on the grounds that a pension is an individual’s personal asset.
Koulla raised a much bigger issue however – the payment of a state pension to a person aged 42. Nobody should be entitled to a state pension at such an age but, predictably, this outrageous law has been in place for 20 years and nobody has appealed to the Supreme Court against it. In fact, until Koulla spoke about it this month, few apart from the beneficiaries and some civil servants would have known it existed. Even fewer would know which self-serving deputies had drafted such a scandalous bill, exclusively designed to benefit a few greedy individuals.
Although some parties have tried, half-heartedly, to rationalise the scandalous situation with state pensions, to supposedly satisfy pubic opinion, the problem remains because those affected have the power and influence to prevent real reform. Only in Cyprus, where laws are tailor-made for specific individuals, could two former Central Bank governors have been paid three hefty pensions – as ex-minister, ex-civil servant and ex-governor – or a serving MEP collect three pensions for having served as a deputy and a state doctor. This is lawful theft of the taxpayer because it has no moral, legal or economic justification.
What is needed is for the entire state pension system to be put on a rational basis that would set a maximum amount, ensure one pension per individual, set the minimum age of eligibility at 63, and reduce the monthly amount when the pension is paid to the spouse of a beneficiary that passed away. As no party would take the initiative to reform this rotten system, Koulla, who has shown he has the decency not to exploit it, could undertake a personal initiative to change it. He might not have the support of the political establishment but the public will certainly be behind him.