PRESIDENT Anastasiades has made a habit of taking personal initiatives to resolve problems facing the country. In his four years in power there have been countless meetings at the presidential palace with an assortment of interest groups, ranging from bank bondholders to farmers, and with Anastasiades acting as a mediator/facilitator/arbitrator/peacemaker.
Sometimes such initiatives work, but more often they do not, though this does not seem to matter to the president, whose main concern is the positive publicity he receives as a problem-solver and caring leader. By becoming involved in everything that is going on he presents himself as a decisive president that is in touch with what is happening in the country and is at pains to put things right. If he fails, he can still be given credit for trying to do something.
Anastasiades is not the first president to play the role of country’s problem-solver, the man who arrives to save the day. Neither he nor his predecessors, who engaged in this practice, seem to understand that such interventions reflect very badly on ministers and senior civil servants, who are shown to be incapable of doing their job properly. The president intervenes because he has no confidence in his minister tackling the problem.
This was the clear message of his intervention in the Limassol port dispute. He had no faith in his transport minister who had failed to resolve the differences between the port’s container terminal operator and truck drivers, at such a high cost for the economy. So, he stepped in. Successive meetings with the interested parties on Saturday produced a result and the truck drivers suspended their action for 30 days. Such interventions have not always been successful. In the case of the national health scheme, for example, meetings with the doctors, nurses and party leaders have failed to yield results.
There have also been presidential interventions that are not helpful, like yesterday’s regarding the Athalassa psychiatric hospital. As a result of press reports about the lack of running water at the hospital for weeks, the president called a meeting at which he gave orders for the construction of a new hospital for psychiatric patients. The decision smacked of electioneering. Had the costs been estimated, were the funds available, was there a need for a new building, had the land been found? Do we have to build a new hospital because there was a problem with the water supply?
Surely it would have made more sense to focus solely on fixing what is wrong with the existing building which, according to the health minister, has too much unutilised space. The modern tendency is for care in the community rather than locking up psychiatric patients in the hospital. The Athalassa hospital was built to house 800 patients and there are currently just 70, said the minister, who quite clearly did not agree with the president’s rash decision.
Anastasiades’ intervention could cost the taxpayer several millions of euros there was no need to spend. This is what happens when the president decides he has to personally solve all society’s problems.