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Pissouri controversy could have been avoided

Angry Pissouri residents block highway

Since reading the latest comments by government representatives (The Cyprus Mail On-line Monday 15 April 2019) I now realise that southeast Pissouri has two geological problems, not one as I have hitherto supposed.

The first is the landslide which has destabilised nearly one million square metres and has destroyed or is in the process of destroying as many as seventy homes, and perhaps more to follow. It is common ground between the experts advising the victims and the geological surveys department of Cyprus that the landslide was triggered by uncontrolled groundwater. All groundwater is the property of the state.

The second is the ever-deepening hole that sovernment officials have dug for themselves. When officials appeared before the House committee of the interior in September 2015 they misled the committee (hopefully unintentionally) by saying that there were no indications of landslide (this was wrong, two distinguished Cypriot engineers had observed indications of landslide between  2012 and 2015) and that the homes in southeast Pissouri had been built by “a negligent developer”. This was also wrong. No competent expert has identified negligent building as a cause of damage.

Because the officials concerned appear to lack enough professional confidence or indeed self-confidence, they have failed to request an opportunity to re-appear before the committee to correct their misinformation.

No competent professional should ever be afraid to admit error. To do so enhances professional status, not diminishes it. Instead these officials have sought to disguise their errors by layer after layer of misinformation which becomes more bizarre layer by layer.

To give just three of many examples, the officials have progressed (if “progressed” is the correct word) from one negligent developer to many negligent Etek engineers, and from one gravity-defying sloping lake to a plurality of gravity-defying sloping lakes.

They have (it appears) advised the auditor-general himself that if the allegedly negligent Etek engineers had calculated correctly the bearing capacity of the soil, the engineers would have been able to predict decades ahead that the district administration would fail to install a groundwater management system. Notwithstanding that the officials knew, or should have known, that “eye of newt and toe of frog” have been recognised for over four hundred years as the industry standard aids for ordinarily competent clairvoyants.

The present controversy could have been avoided easily, and without political embarrassment to ministers. And possibly without cost.

If Cypriot officials had applied within twelve weeks of the onset of the Pissouri landslide, the European Union Solidarity Fund would have funded not only recompense to victims but also remedial works to stabilise Pissouri. Neglect to apply has cost Cypriot taxpayers’ tens of millions of euros.

I can think of only two logical reasons why officials neglected to apply for something so patently advantageous to Cyprus. First, indifference: the responsible officials simply could not be bothered.

Second, culpability: I believe it to be highly probable that officials know that their positive decision NOT to construct a groundwater management system caused the state-owned ground water to trigger the landslide.

They fear that EU experts may determine that the landslide was not wholly natural but was caused by professional and/or administrative maladministration. For the sake of completeness, I would add that an individual is as much responsible for inaction as they would be for an action. The defence “I didn’t do nothin’ guv” would not help these officials or the government. The decision not to act was an act by the government which has “materially decreased[d] the economic value” of homes, and for which the government is required by the constitution to pay “just compensation”.

The auditor-general should not have allowed his staff to publish letters in his name which he knew, or should have known, to be factually incorrect and which cruelly accused aged victims of begging for “gifts” or “welfare”. Instead he should be investigating why officials failed to apply to the solidarity fund, and why officials failed to ensure that an adequate drainage system was installed to manage ground water – prior to permitting large scale development, especially on the heights above southeast Pissouri. Such an investigation could and should be completed in days or at most a few weeks.

In the meantime, the auditor-general should use the considerable authority of his important office to ensure that “just compensation” is paid “promptly” and “in cash” to victims in compliance with the Constitution of Cyprus.

Antony Walker, FRICS

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