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Party stipend from government furtively increases

Political parties, in apparent collusion with government, have furtively increased the annual state grant payable to them by approximately €2.56m – although the sleight of hand was picked up by a daily newspaper.

Looking at data released by the treasury last week, Politis spotted that the ad hoc payout given to parties – on top of the regular annual grant – has become a permanent fixture.

In election years – presidential and parliamentary– parties are allocated an extra ad hoc amount.

By law, financial assistance for election campaigns must be disbursed at least three months prior to the date of the elections in question. For instance, the ad hoc funds for the 2018 presidential elections were paid out in late 2017.

But the treasury data shows that, during 2018 as well, the parties received additional funds corresponding to the ad hoc payout – meaning the extra funds have since been locked in.

This was done on the down-low, with no discussion taking place in parliament.

The matter was flagged by the auditor-general, who suggested that should parties henceforth be entitled to an increased state assistance, perhaps they should be prohibited from receiving private donations.

However the audit office was informed that the decision to raise grants to parties is taken at a political level – specifically by the finance minister.

Under the 2018 budget, the parliamentary parties – including their youth wings – received a total of €10.74m.

The extra €2.56m is broken down as follows: ruling Disy got €739,000; Akel €632,000; Diko €374,000; Edek €192,000; Citizens Alliance €188,000; Solidarity €166,000; Greens €161,000; Elam €131,000.

About 15 per cent of the annual state grant is distributed equally among the parties; the remaining 85 per cent is allocated according to party strength, based on the results of the latest parliamentary elections.

Meantime, and following the 2016 legislative elections and the entry into parliament of eight parties, the number of parliamentary associates or assistants was raised from 87 to 101.

Although these associates are employed by the parties, they are in fact on the payroll of the central government.

For 2017, €3.75m was set aside for the parliamentary associates, compared to €3.51m in 2016 and €2.75m in 2015.

Currently, the 56 MPs are assigned one assistant each. Another three parliamentary associates are assigned to the representatives in parliament of the Armenian, Latin and Maronite religious groups.

On top of that, 42 assistants are assigned to the parties themselves. Though designated as parliamentary associates, they more often than not work out of party offices.

These latter positions are not advertised, and hiring is usually based on connections. As a result, the practice continues of hiring either retired civil servants or relatives of party cadres.

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