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2017: A veneer of open democracy that fools no one

Deputies amended the capital statement law so much that it is now a joke piece of legislation.

This year showed yet again how deputies are experts at passing populist laws that serve no purpose, says Andria Kades

 

 

Although Cyprus loves to parade its close ties with Greece, I wonder whether the ancient fathers of democracy would look favourably on the form it takes on this little island.

It takes just one glance at parliament and the political elite from which voters will elect a president to realise where ‘the hub’ – the government’s favourite word – of the problem stems from.

Whether one looks left, right or centre one sees only ineptitude.

Members of parliament, the lawmakers of our society, have ironically been guilty of voting into law bills that have been amended so much, they have been found on several occasions to be unconstitutional.

In fact, of the 16 laws referred by President Nicos Anastasiades to the supreme court, 15 were found to be unconstitutional. All this from a legislative body that is largely comprised of lawyers who should ideally know better.

To keep up the façade, deputies have become experts at using their seats to pass populist laws that serve no purpose. Topping the list must be capital statements, that should in theory be a beacon of transparency to allow the public to see whether top government brass and MPs have vested interests or have become unduly rich in ways that don’t make sense on paper.

Instead, deputies amended the law so much that it is now a joke piece of legislation. The first batch of capital statements published earlier this year had discrepancies, omissions and ambiguities. A total of 75 statements were made public – the president’s, his 11 ministers, the undersecretary to the president, 56 MPs and six MEPs.

When passing the law, deputies ensured however that any imperfections or falsehoods surrounding their capital statements would leave them unscathed. Though the statement is signed, meaning any false disclosures could be liable for a criminal offence, this would have to be unearthed by other deputies who sit on a parliamentary committee – one from Disy, Akel, Diko and Edek, chaired by House President Demetris Syllouris.

It begs the question of how objective these MPs might be during this oversight. Though some may be on supposedly different ideological spectres, deputies have no problems colluding when it comes to self-interests, particularly when it serves the nobler purpose of covering colleagues’ backs.

For starters, the law does not impose any penalties for anyone who does not submit a capital statement or submits it with false or misleading information.

Essentially, 75 public officials are allowed to submit fraudulent information without any repercussions other than the possibility of the “public wrath” if it gets out.

Interestingly, any member of the public is allowed to file a complaint if they believe the statement is false. Nevertheless, they themselves face the risk of a one-year prison sentence and up to €3,000 in fines if the complaint is filed “fraudulently, maliciously or with inexcusable negligence” – how that will be determined is awfully vague.

This is apparently to ensure that people will file complaints only when they have concrete proof and in a bid to stop political opponents from trying to smear each other.

While they have gone to great lengths to deter people from filing any complaints, it is a pity not nearly as much effort was exerted into ensuring the capital statements are filed correctly in the first place.

We have much to look forward to next year, also bearing in mind that if any reports against a published capital statement make it to the public, this also carries a six-month prison sentence and/or up to a €2,000 fine.

In a country where the only glimmer of hope of things getting done – sporadically – is when the eyes of the public are watching, there is not much to look for in these statements other than another joke piece of legislation.

Syllouris told reporters proudly that the practice of publishing capital statements was very forward thinking – even some other EU countries don’t release capital statements.

What purpose it served to have them published in Cyprus is a very valid question when for instance, the head of Disy, Averof Neophytou only declared only some €850 in bank deposits while the value of the same Audi A8 car model declared by President Nicos Anastasiades and Akel leader Andros Kyprianou was declared as €85,000 and €11,000 respectively.

And while there are many hubs the government parades Cyprus for being – investment hub, energy hub, humanitarian services hub (the UNHCR has recently slammed the state for its treatment of refugees), a tech hub (we’re still trying to implement a proper e-government system) perhaps the hub we actually are and the hub we are apparently striving to be, is the one of a world away.

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