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Our View: House committees should take care over who they invite

THE ALLEGATIONS about a secondary school canteen manager selling drugs to students became a big news story in the last couple of days. After all, the allegation was made at a meeting of the House education committee that was convened to discuss drug use at schools, after three students were caught with cannabis in their possession the previous week. House committees have a habit of discussing current affairs, presumably so that deputies can show they are in touch with what is going on. That they provide no solutions and merely act as news commentators is another matter,

At Wednesday’s meeting, as is the practice, representatives of several organisations, including the Drug Squad (Ykan), the authority for combatting addiction, a teaching union, organised parents and the so-called Foundation for a Drug-Free World were present. It was the representative of the latter, Stella Constantinou, who made the allegations about the Limassol school canteen selling drugs. To persistent questions as to why the case had not been reported to police, she claimed the canteen manager was threatening the parents’ association.” In the end, she said a letter was sent to the education ministry about the matter.

Was this a publicity stunt by an organisation that is not registered with the authorities and wanted to raise its public profile? The Foundation for a Drug-Free World exists in several European countries and is linked to the Church of Scientology which is believed to fund it. This was not mentioned at the House meeting and from subsequent reports it transpired that Constantinou had requested she took part in the meeting. Her sensationalist allegations she made secured the publicity she was after, even though there were too many unanswered questions. Why, for instance, was the canteen manager not reported to the Drug Squad anonymously? How was he threatening parents?

The allegations were investigated by police who announced on Thursday that so far these could not be substantiated. Meanwhile, at the same meeting, the president of the organised parents said drug use at school was on the rise, but “some head teachers were hiding the problem so their school would not get a bad name.” This was another example of how House committee meeting become vehicles of sensationalism. If a school has some students that were caught smoking pot, is it obliged to issue a public announcement to advertise the fact? The sensible thing is to deal with it as a school issue and not go to the newspapers, but even this was presented as some sinister plot at the House.

The chairpersons of committees must be more careful about who they invite to meetings if they want House committees to be taken seriously. There has to be a certain quality control of guests and a more structured debate instead of allowing anyone there to say whatever they like. Committee meetings cannot be allowed to operate like coffee-shop gatherings.

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