ONE GOOD thing President Anastasiades’ government has done is to reduce state spending on arms and military equipment. In the 2019 state budget, total expenditure would be down to €51.867 million, compared to €76.910 million this year. A report in Philelftheros, reported the spending cut rather negatively, pointing out that in the late ‘90s Cyprus was spending about €250m a year; after 2010 spending fell below €200m and has steadily decreased.
Has a government finally come to terms with the fact that spending on arms is a waste of public money? Did Greek Cypriots feel safer and more secure when €250m was being spent on military equipment compared to now? We think not, otherwise they would be protesting and demanding the state invested in tanks, artillery and missiles to protect them. People, although they may occasionally get carried away by media-generated military hype, are pragmatic enough to know that the National Guard, regardless of how much it invested in arms, could never be a match for the second largest standing military force in Nato.
Anastasiades, to his credit, has never shown much interest in military matters. He cynically sees the National Guard for what it has always been – another provider of highly-paid and secure public sector jobs which the parties can offer their respective followers. The career military of Cyprus are more underworked than civil servants but enjoy all the same perks, including finishing the work day at lunch-time. Anastasiades also came up with the idea of hiring 3,000 privates on fixed contracts, in order to cut conscripts’ military service by 10 months.
Inevitably, the defence payroll is steadily rising. Wages for the full-time staff – officers and NCOs – will be €6m higher next year, reaching €142.154m. Spending on the National Guard will increase by €12m to €156.843m but this also includes purchases of supplies and maintenance costs. It is indicative of the politicians’ philosophy that wages of officers and NCOs are only a bit lower than the total operating costs of the National Guard that also includes contracted privates.
Quite clearly, the government is cutting down on its arms spending so it could cover the increases in the National Guard payrolls. At this rate, perhaps a year will come when nothing will be spent on military equipment so that steadily increasing National Guard payrolls could be covered. We will spend more than €350m on defence in 2019 but we will not feel any more secure than if we had spent half that amount. The saving could be used to fund the national health scheme, which would benefit everyone and not just a few thousand army employees.