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Our View: Anastasiades interfering in labour market to boost election chances

The wasting of the taxpayers’ money is always stepped up before presidential elections. It has become an integral part of an election campaign, like giant billboards, junk mail, public gatherings and empty promises. The only time it did not happen was before the last elections and that was because the state was bankrupt and the incumbent, who had caused it, was not seeking re-election. He had squandered the taxpayers’ money long before the election campaign.

President Anastasiades has no such problems. Having cleaned up the mess left behind by his predecessor, he put the economy back on track and with a growth rate forecast to exceed 3.5 per cent this year he feels he has earned the right to waste the taxpayers’ money on his re-election drive. Spending money for votes is a political ideology, to which all presidents seeking re-election are firmly committed, and Anastasiades is a true ideologue in this respect. In the last few months, he has toured the country cataloguing his government’s expenditure plans for each district, mentioning even spending on the improvement of school playgrounds.

Every item of government spending is considered a vote-winner, even if it is completely unjustified and recklessly wasteful. A shining example of this was Wednesday’s decision by the Council of Ministers to subsidise the necessary qualification practice of unemployed law graduates – 12 months – so they could register with the Bar Association and work. Eligible graduates would be paid €650 per month for up to a year, the scheme costing the taxpayer €12 million over the three years it would be in force. The Bar Association, which will administer the scheme, expects 1,200 law graduates would use what is in effect a scandalous subsidy of law offices for the next three years.

This measure has no rational justification. The government probably stumbled on it in its search for spending schemes that could win Anastasiades a few more votes in January. No thought was given to it, the only consideration being whether it would buy votes. It is a subsidy of law offices, raking in millions of euro and in need of no state assistance. Under the scheme, the law office at which the graduate is training will pay him nothing, the taxpayer paying for wealthy law offices to train graduates.
What is worse is that this a command economy measure, completely ignoring the requirements of the market. Would the Cyprus economy require another 1,200 lawyers in the next three years? No, and the reason there are so many law graduates that cannot find a place at a law firm to receive the required training for their professional qualification is because these firms do not need any more lawyers. In economic terms, there is an excess supply of law graduates for whom there is no demand in the market. There will still be no demand for their services after they have qualified as lawyers. Some may start their own practice and encourage more people to pursue trivial cases that will help cause even more delays in the administering of justice, while most will cease being unemployed law graduates and become out of work lawyers.

Even if there was a shortage of lawyers, the government would have no business creating more of them. But in Cyprus there is a glut of lawyers and the last thing the country needs is subsiding the qualification of even more of them. It is not the state’s responsibility or obligation to ensure everyone with a law degree becomes a practising lawyer. The state did not ask youngsters to study law and therefore has no obligation to pay them to obtain the professional qualification. If young graduates cannot find a law firm to do work practice, it is too bad and they should look for a different kind of job. They can still use their degree to find well-paid employment.

Government does not allow rationality to contaminate its drafting of policy, particularly when the objective is the buying of votes. The scheme for the law graduates is resoundingly absurd, but the government will not stop there. The labour minister said a similar scheme will be introduced for civil engineers that also need work practice before obtaining a professional qualification. In short, the taxpayer will also subsidise engineering firms, because Anastasiades has decided that interfering in the labour market serves his election plans.

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