Cyprus must have a more long-term vision, experts say
By Philippe Orphanides
Cyprus needs to up its game and focus less on short-term development outcomes and more on a 20 to 30-year roadmap of where the island wants to be by that time, according to experts, a vision that has been adopted by ruling Disy and partly unveiled this week.
The Cyprus2030 vision and development agenda was presented on Thursday at an event in honour of Greece’s main opposition New Democracy’s leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis at Disy headquarters in Nicosia. The final and full form of the agenda will be disclosed in six months.
The agenda was prepared for Disy by EPOQ Partners, a private consultancy firm newly established in Cyprus, and provides a roadmap and milestones for the development of each sector of the Cyprus economy. Namely, it puts forward the underutilized capacity of infrastructure and the potential of Cyprus to harness growth with a technology-driven economy.
In his introductory speech, Disy leader Averof Neophytou stressed how the ability of a country to remain competitive depends on how it adapts to new realities like virtual banking, technology in agriculture, new and renewable energies as well as smart cities.
EPOQ heads up a team of three experienced consulting firms, Farenheit 212, CDS consulting firm and Quantum Communications with experience in investment and business advisory, innovation strategy and strategic communications, respectively.
The team of consultants believe that Cyprus can play a pivotal role in medical tourism and specialty centres, but also in research & education, entrepreneurship and innovation. They also identified a lot of potential in medical and financial technology. The consultants came up with and overarching agenda that outlines forty to fifty potential sectoral plays that can actually drive the development of Cyprus, ranging from education to medical tourism.
Speaking to the Sunday Mail, founding Partner of EPOQ Adib Basbous explained how it all started: “We came for a first tour in March last year and were introduced via the party (DISY) to different stakeholders and ministers with whom we had a very informed discussion about the future of Cyprus and what it could become. A few months later, we believed there was a merit to conducting a second tour to discuss the possibility of an agenda built around all the learnings collected from our first visit.”
It didn’t take long for the chemistry to form between Disy and the polyvalent consultants team of Lebanese origin. “They had us at hello, Cyprus gives you a very personalized service which actually builds on its hospitality. It’s in the genes, they apply it to attracting investments and businesses and everything else that comes with it” explained Nabih Maroun, founding Partner at EPOQ.
“Based on the take-aways from our two or three rounds that we’ve done last year with the business community and the ministers, we went back to our respective offices and led an intensive research and analysis exercise looking at Cyprus throughout recent history, periods of prosperity and setbacks.”
Through their preliminary work, the consultants identified several tangible and intangible assets such as a young and educated population, the prospects presented by the hydrocarbons discovery and a government that is open for business and that plays an increasingly key role as a trusted partner in the EU and the region.
Education and a skilled workforce are one of the priorities in the consultant’s agenda and endorsed in Disy’s vision.
Neophytou emphasised the need to provide more relevant skills to the young population: “By 2030, 800 million jobs will be replaced by ones requiring news skills and qualifications, affecting one fifth of today’s global workforce. Any responsible political leadership should not ignore this reality. […] Here, in Cyprus, companies are complaining about the lack of candidates with the modern skills needed to fill hundreds of highly paid positions.”
Cyprus is using its assets, generating the steady growth recorded in the past years. But it has much more potential and needs to think further ahead. As Nabih describes “It’s not enough. The conditions around you serve you, you solidify your assets and political positioning, it’s a good starting point. Some good and prudent management got you out of the crisis, but the question is “where do we go?”. Governments spend a lot of time looking at the errors of the past and managing day to day and rarely have time to step back and say, “where do we take this country?”.”
“There is no harm in looking for external advice, people have done it before, you need a bouncing board for the constituents of the country to collectively define a vision that would rally everyone around common signposts, a common destination and at the same time make it tangible enough in the right timeframe to achieve it”, he added.
The biggest challenge they are facing so far is rallying all the parties and having assurances from the government that it would adopt and stick to the agenda all the way. The ministers and the government executives they have met have proved to be a cohesive, but overwhelmed team.
“The government has a certain difficulty in establishing long term priorities” said Nabih, “it was more like priorities taken top-down by the presidency and then moving on to the next priority. I’m not going to say they are short term, but their priorities are six to nine months ahead, whereas we are talking about twenty years down the road. We have also seen ministries working a lot in silos because of the pressing needs, partly because of firefighting and partly is because they are overwhelmed.”
Twenty or thirty-year national visons and strategies and the si ne qua non branding and communication exercise have been adopted by various countries in efforts to give clear directions to their economy and a sense of ownership of the process to their citizens. In the eyes of the consultants’ team, this is what Cyprus needs and the bottom-up component needs strengthening through more consultations with civil society and NGOs.
Oil-reliant economies like the UAE have crafted and implemented the Abu Dhabi Vision 2030 with the goal of diversifying away from an oil-based economy and achieving sustainable growth, with the last barrel predicted around that time. West African economies which are highly dependent on raw wood and cocoa exports adopted the same approach in the past five years in a drive to develop their industrial and raw material transformation sectors and serve multiple development goals.
Similarly, Cyprus will benefit from sparking growth in new sectors that would avoid it being a “hostage of the tourism and services sectors”, said the consultants.