It seems very peculiar that senior state officials are taking political decisions that the government distances itself from and subsequently tries to overturn.
It happened a few weeks ago when the foreign ministry sent a note verbale to all embassies in the Republic, with a letter from the head of the antiquities department advising them not to attend any events at archaeological sites in the occupied area because these were under the authority of department. As soon as this was made public foreign minister Nicos Christodoulides said he would resolve the matter and let it be known that he was unaware of this rather embarrassing initiative by his ministry, which showed nothing but bad faith.
Last Wednesday, the customs department issued an announcement saying it would be stepping up inspections of Greek Cypriot cars returning from the north and taking measures if their fuel tanks contained petrol purchased in the north. The department said it would take samples from car fuel tanks and if they were found to contain petrol from the north they could be impounded and a fine would be imposed on the owner. On Thursday the government stepped in with spokesman Prodromos Prodromou, saying that any inspections would only target illicit trade.
“The government does not intend, nor will it obstruct the movement of ordinary citizens,” said Prodromou. It was also reported that Christodoulides would write to the customs department telling it that inspections could not be carried out on private cars, but only on people suspected of commercially exploiting the cheaper fuel bought in the north. Fuel in the north is about 40 per cent cheaper, as a result of lower taxes and the fall in the value of the Turkish lira against the euro, so drivers have an incentive to fill up in the north.
The customs department tried to justify its decision with some rather ludicrous arguments about the higher sulphur content in diesel than the maximum content permitted in the Republic. It may also have been economical with the truth in claiming inspections of the fuel in a tank would show if it had been bought in the north, as the petrol used has very similar specs. The department chief may have been thinking he was doing his patriotic duty by taking this action after a host of indignant press reports about Greek Cypriot drivers regularly buying cheap petrol in the north.
In reality it was another illustration of bad faith. Disy leader Averof Neophytou was right when he said “recent actions by pubic services clearly relay differing messages from the declared position of the president and Disy in favour of a solution.” What he did not acknowledge though, was that the president may have created the conditions for state officials to consider such actions perfectly acceptable and in line with government policy.