ANOTHER court decision was issued about the pay cuts in the public sector last week. The full bench of the administrative court ruled that the accountant-general’s decision to cut the pension judges were receiving from the social insurance fund in 2013 was unconstitutional. On the surface this may appear like a sensible decision but it was based on a provision of the law that could, at best, be described as outrageous.
By law, supreme court judges like the attorney-general retire at 68. There is however some provision of the law that entitles them to draw a pension from the social insurance fund at 63. In short, they collect a pension while still being employed by the state and collecting a monthly salary, sick leave pay, 13th salary and all other benefits. We suspect that only in Cyprus could there be such a scandalous arrangement whereby someone who retires at the age of 68 can also collect a monthly payment as an old age pensioner.
By what logic, principle of equality or concept of sound government is a fully employed public employee entitled to a pension? If a judge wants to collect a pension, surely they should stop working as a full-time employee of the state. Not in Cyprus where we have some bizarre laws affording scandalous privileges to public employees, including judges, who protect these privileges with as much fervor as the members of Pasydy.
The administrative court had ruled in favour of a supreme court judge in a similar case in December, which prompted the representative of the attorney-general not defend the cuts in the case of the three judges, one of whom was a former president of the supreme court. The decision was based on the provision of the constitution that states “the remuneration of and other terms of employment of any judge of the supreme court cannot be altered unfavourably for him after his appointment.” There does not seem to be a provision in the constitution about the irregular practice of a judge collecting a pension before he has actually retired, for which there can be no moral or rational justification.
The above provision was also cited by the supreme court in 2013 after our bankrupt state tried to cut the public sector payroll, and it ruled that judges could only voluntarily contribute a part of their remuneration to ease the strain on public finances. How many did so, nobody knows, but for the public the overriding impression, rightly or wrongly, was that the judges had put self-interest above the public interest. They could have interpreted the constitutional provision differently. The provision was after all intended as a safeguard against the executive using pay cuts as a way of applying pressure on judges to do as it commanded, whereas everyone knew the sole objective of the 2012 pay cuts was to save the state from bankruptcy.
When judges behave in this way what hope is there that anyone will prioritise the public interest? Who will set the good example when former supreme court judges take the state to court because it dared to cut their monthly pension, which they should never have been receiving in the first place because they were still employed by the state? What example is given when judges, whom most people look up to as sensible and wise individuals put their personal economic interests above the interests of a country in crisis? Even our politicians, who have ensured their privileges are enshrined in law, accepted the 2012 pay cuts without protest or legal action. They set a better example than the judges.
Sadly, we have created a society in which public-spirit and small sacrifices for the good of the whole are unheard of. Every group pursues its narrow self-interest at the expense of the rest of society. These groups which are all part of the public sector seem happy for the country to fall apart as long as their personal interests and work privileges are not affected. This is why state hospital doctors’ and nurses’ unions refuse to agree to changes of their work terms for the sake of Gesy, and why the teaching union Oelmek has instructed its members to file class actions against the pay cuts and the docking of 3 per cent of their wages as a contribution to their pensions. Teachers consider it a violation of their rights to have to contribute towards the over-generous pensions they receive on retirement. The taxpayer had been picking up the bill until the crisis came in 2012 and now teachers want to revert to contributing nothing. The four supreme court judges also contributed nothing towards the state pensions they went to court about.
In the old days, before Cyprus became affluent, there was a strong sense of community and public spirit, but these regrettably have now become extinct. Now we have tens of thousands of self-serving public employees, whose only interest is to extract as much from the state coffers as possible, even if this bankrupts the state again. And our judges seem to be helping them achieve it.