PRESIDENT Anastasiades regularly expresses his wish for the Cyprus Republic to be a “normal state”, but the decision taken by the Council of Ministers at the end of last year does not suggest his wish is very close to becoming a reality. A few days before the end of 2018, the cabinet decided the transfer of Church-owned land to the state as per the agreement of February 1971 signed by Archbishop Makarios and President Makarios.
The agreement, which was the result of negotiations by Makarios with himself – being the head of state and of the Church – stipulated that the state would subsidise the wages of priests that were based in countryside churches and in exchange it would receive 15,000 donums of Church land. Although the state started paying the priests 48 years ago the ownership of the land was never transferred to the state. This was a fantastic deal for the Church as Makarios ensured it had no end date, which means the taxpayer of the normal state would carry on subsidising the wages of priests indefinitely, paying much more than the value of the land it had received.
It gets more absurd. About 73 per cent of the Church land offered to the state is now in the occupied territory and cannot be sold or developed, which means it has zero value, even though it has been valued at €125 million, at 2009 prices. The land in the government-controlled area, at 2010 prices was valued at €81.2 million. According to Politis, since 1983, when the office of the accountant-general started keeping records, the state paid out €123.7 million to priests, that is €42.5 million more than the value of the land it has been given. And this does not take into account money paid in the 12 years for which no records of the payments were kept.
The 1971 agreement was updated in a bill submitted to the legislature for approval in 2016, but has yet to be approved. In 2019 the subsidy of the priests’ wages will cost the taxpayer €6.8 million. What is interesting is that nobody knows whether the priests that receive the monthly €674.82 from the state actually work in the countryside, because the Church decides who is eligible. The allowance as far as we know might be paid to the Archbishop’s favourite priests, doing office work in the Archbishopric. Does the state even know how many priests are based in the countryside? Based on its total annual spend it pays some 830 priests.
If this were a normal state the ludicrous agreement signed by Makarios, acting as if Cyprus was his personal business, on behalf of the state and the church, would have been challenged in the courts and eventually declared null and void. On what grounds would an organisation, let alone a state, undertake to subsidise the Church wages indefinitely in exchange for land of limited value? Makarios conned the state, and it is ironic that Anastasiades who claims to yearn for a normal state rubber-stamped this scam.