Cyprus Mail
Tales from the Coffeeshop

Tales from the Coffeeshop: Co-op low trumps gas, royalty high

The infallible Odysseas (right) has a grudge against Harris (left) and has never missed an opportunity to disparage him

OUR GOVERNMENT has found out in the last 10 days that there was a lot of truth in Harold Wilson’s claim that “a week is a long time in politics.”

The Thursday before last, ExxonMobil announced a significant gas find, spreading the feelgood factor across the country and allowing the government to wallow in the excessively positive publicity that was generated, with papers claiming tens of billions of bucks would come flooding in and the US oil giants were here to stay. The government’s energy policy would make us all rich, the best promise you could make an average Cypriot.

Prez Nik’s triumphant procession did not stop there. On Sunday, he flew off to London where he attended a reception for Kyproulla at Buckingham Palace the following day, hosted by Prince Charles and featuring three Cyprus-related exhibitions, none of which was halloumi-related, even though Charles did make a joke about a shortage of our national cheese in the UK being considered “nothing short of a national crisis”.

He also met Prime Minister Theresa May at Downing Street on Tuesday, but Wednesday’s audience with the Queen at Buckingham Palace was completely overshadowed by the release of the 800-page report on the demise of the Co-op bank, which was not very flattering to the government.

It dominated everything and there was not a single announcement by the political parties about that ridiculously over-sized black cowboy hat First Lady Andri wore during her meeting with the Queen which deserved some serious attention.

 

SINCE WEDNESDAY, the government has been vilified for failing to save the bankrupt Co-op bank while the media/political lynch mob has been baying for finance minister Harris Georgiades’ blood. His “responsibility for the collapse of the bank was severe”, concluded the three-member investigative committee, fuelling the mob’s demands for Harris’ resignation or sacking.

Things took a turn for the worse on Thursday night when Nik issued an announcement expressing full confidence in his minister and caused the political ethics mob to see red and step up its attacks on Nik and his government for disrespecting the findings of the committee. The government was also held politically responsible in the report, so the least it could do was sack Harris.

In fact, the prez’s loyalty to Harris was quite surprising. He did not show the ruthlessness of comrade Tof who immediately after the Mari explosion forced his defence minister, the late Costas Papacostas, to resign in order to ease the pressure on him and the government.

Within six days the gas euphoria had given room to anger and negativity, the heroes of the government had become villains, and Nik was being savaged from left, right and centre for showing arrogance, lack of political ethics and contempt for the findings of the committee.

It is ironic that the one time Nik did the right thing, standing by his minister and not bowing to public pressure or playing to the gallery – as he invariably does – he has sparked the hysteria of the political morality lynch mob.

 

THE REAL problem for Nik is that he too was a fully paid-up member of this gang, ranting and raving about accepting political responsibility. He has been reminded of this over the last few days by Akelites who recalled how Nik, perched on the moral high ground after the Mari explosion, demanded resignations, acceptance of political responsibility and, above all, respect for the findings of the Mari investigative committee.

He slammed comrade Tof for refusing to accept the conclusions of the committee back then, but is doing exactly the same now, though in a more elegant way. The investigative committee had done “a very worthwhile job, but allow me to say there is an error regarding its conclusions,” he said on Friday.

A Phil columnist reminded us of Nik the moralist’s sermon about political responsibility when he appointed the investigative committee to look into the collapse of the economy in 2013. He said: “Political responsibilities are those which, if the conclusions are unanimous, leave no choice to the person being judged, not only to declare that he accepts them, but in practice to implement what political morality dictates, that is, resign and go home.”

As any great moralist will tell you political morality in Kyproulla is not written in stone, but is always subject to changing circumstances.

 

THE BIGGEST mistake made by the government and Harris was that they did not close down the co-ops in 2013. The decision to bail it out with €1.8 billion back then was political and made no economic sense whatsoever. But having no money to cover insured deposits and fearing a public revolt if the co-ops were closed down, the government chose the easy way out, not giving a hoot about the eventual cost to the taxpayer.

Harris allowed his incompetent friend, Nicholas Hadjiyiannis, through plotting and scheming to take the CEO’s job at the Co-op Bank, but even if the world’s top banker had been appointed the Co-op would still have gone under. Manned by staff that knew next to nothing about banking and clueless about recoveries how would even a competent CEO’s policies have been implemented?

This was a bank with €7 billion worth of NPLs in 2013, the business model of which, since the seventies, was based on non-repayment of loans, often backed by worthless collateral. It was, as Akelites never tired of telling us “banking with a human face”. And the political parties tried to keep this bankruptcy banking model alive after 2013.

Everyone seems to have forgotten how the parties encouraged people not to repay their loans, blocking the foreclosures bill, before making it toothless and protecting primary residences by law. Given that the Co-op Bank’s portfolio was housing loans, how could it recover its loans when the collateral was protected and nothing could be done about non-repayment?

 

WHEN the Co-op report was handed to AG Costas Clerides, a week last Friday he said that it would not be made public before it was ensured it would not affect other procedures. On Tuesday, however, the investigative committee announced it would be released the next day. Had all its 800 pages been studied in a few days and it was ascertained that it did not affect other procedures?

Perhaps the AG came under pressure from his publicity-mad buddy Odysseas, the holier than thou auditor-general who was one of the few people to be praised by the report. Odysseas milked this boost to his sizeable ego. First, he patronisingly praised the committee for proving worthy of the expectations of the people, whose spokesman he appears to have become.

He then quoted from the pages of the report referring his greatness. “Unfortunately, the observations, warnings and criticism of the auditor-general about the unsatisfactory course of the Co-op Bank, were not only ignored, but there was an attempt to prove he was wrong. He warned about issues of corporate governance, failure to reduce NPLs, failure to reduce operational spending and more specifically squandering of money.”

How could they not have listened to the warning of the infallible Odysseas? Would the bank have been saved if it cut operational spending and stopped squandering money? It may have saved a few million euros, which would not make the slightest bit of difference to €6bn worth of NPLs.

 

AS FOR the Co-op’s failure to reduce NPLs, we never heard the great Odysseas urging Co-op customers to repay their loans in order to save it from going bankrupt. Instead, it was Harris’ fault that people never repaid their loans and were given extra help in doing this by laws passed by the parties.

The infallible Odysseas has a grudge against Harris and has never missed an opportunity to disparage him. And he was not going to miss this one, accusing him of acting with “obstinacy and obduracy and instead of consensus and rationality there was incompetence”. The perfect one has now added character analysis of ministers to his audit remit.

Finally, he expressed the certainty that the AG, whom he treats a bit like his subordinate, would investigate the possibility that criminal offences had been committed. If he does not find any he could always ask Odysseas to help him find them.

 

HANDING over the report to the AG, retired judge Giorgos Aresti took the traditional, melodramatic approach and spoke of the “disappearance of the achievement made by the Cypriot people”. This rosy-coloured view was always de rigeur when referring to the co-ops.

Everyone ignores that it was the Cypriot people who led their achievement to bankruptcy. The Cypriot people who were its customers took loans they never had any intention of repaying, the Cypriot people managing the co-ops were not bothered because they did the same but for bigger amounts and the Cypriot people appointed by the parties to oversee the co-ops turned a blind eye to everything.

The collapse of the co-ops was also the achievement of the Cypriot people, but they are never to blame for anything. It was all the fault of an obstinate Harris as the omniscient Odysseas confirmed, and once he resigns justice will have been done.

 

SPEAKING of the Cypriot people, the pampered, highly paid employees of the SGOs have decided that they should not make a contribution to Gesy. In fact they will make a contribution, but they are claiming this back from their employer, Cyta or EAC which had been paying for private health insurance for all their employees.

As the employer’s contribution to Gesy would be lower than it was for private insurance, the unions want the saving given to the staff and this will more than cover their contribution to Gesy. Odysseas, to his credit, said this was out of order, but the unions are adamant and have sought a meeting with Prez Nik to put their case.

Their case is that the payment of health insurance by their employer was a workers’ victory and therefore any money saved should go for them. All public sector unions talk about their conquests, which gives the impression that these were achieved by great sacrifice, long strikes and battles with evil employers. Nothing could be further from the truth. These conquests were achieved by the unions demanding them and weak, vote-seeking politicians immediately saying ‘yes’.

 

TEACHING unions, whose biggest conquest is the right of their members to teach as little as possible and specialise in irrational demands have come up with another great one. They want male teachers who have done military service to receive a specific number of points that would count towards promotion. Presumably a certain number of points have to be amassed by teacher before he or she is eligible for promotion. The logic would go like this: you might be crap teacher, but because you served in the National Guard 20 years ago, here are some points to help you gain promotion so you can be a better-paid crap teacher.

LAST WEEK we reported the platitudes uttered by ‘added value’ minister Nikos Christoulides at an economic forum in Delphi in Greece. The forum, according to the Phil columnist, Christos Michaelides, who was present, dealt with the gas find in Kyproulla’s block 10 and “everyone agreed that this would affect, possibly change radically, the political conditions in the south-eastern Mediterranean.”

Michaelides wrote that this was also mentioned by Christodoulides, “a well-known personality and particularly popular with most participants, Greek and non-Greek.” He added: “Indeed, many were those that predicted (in the unofficial chat in the surrounding area) that ‘he will be the next president of Cyprus’.” As Christodoulides would say, it was significant that this prediction was made in the location of the Delphic Oracle, even though, we have learned it came from Pythia.

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