The Cyprus Integrity Forum (CIF) has welcomed government efforts to tackle lobbying through a bill promoting transparency in public sector decision making as a means of preventing conflict of interest cases.
The bill has recently been sent to parliament for discussion before being tabled to the House plenum to vote. It follows recommendations by Europe’s Group of States against Corruption (Greco) for the introduction of rules for members of parliament on interaction with third parties that may seek to influence the parliamentary process.
According to CIF officer Maria Konstantinou, the organisation, involved in the National Action Plan against Corruption, has been trying since 2014 to have lobbying regulated.
“We are glad the justice ministry went ahead with its regulation through a bill,” Konstantinou told the Cyprus Mail.
She said passing the bill and other ones concerning tackling corruption was very important.
According to Konstantinou, lobbying takes its name from the ‘lobby’ of parliament where members gather before and after discussions. The Council of Europe considers that lobbying is the concerted effort to influence policymaking and decision-making by an individual or organisation to obtain a concrete result from government authorities and elected representatives, she said.
In a wider sense, she said, the term may refer to public actions (such as demonstrations) by associations, councils, defence groups, think-tanks, non-governmental organisations, lawyers, etc.
Lobbying may also include pressure for the protection of financial interests by companies.
Cyprus, like many countries, is no stranger to lobbying.
One example of lobbying, she said, could be consultations and meetings between an NGO and a state official or a representative of a parliamentary party behind closed doors. Since no one knows of these meetings and what has been discussed, this could lead to corruption.
But a minister whose office keeps a lobbyists’ registry, would be able to hold meetings with transparency, she said.
The bill currently before parliament provides for the creation of such a record in which all lobbyists who want to hold meetings with state officials and MPs must register. The record will be kept by the independent Authority against Corruption that will be set up as part of the law in question.
Individuals and organisations will have to submit their lobbying group and its fields of interest.
Prior to a meeting with officials and MPs, they will have to inform the authority in writing on the issues they would like to discuss. Anyone attempting to hold such a meeting without being a registered lobbyist faces imprisonment of up to two years and/or a fine up to €20,000.
According to a 2015 report by Transparency International, Cyprus was in urgent need of legislation to monitor and regulate lobbying.
The report, that ranked the island last among 19 EU countries when it came to the existence of such legislation, said that Cyprus performed poorly in almost every area assessed, especially when it came to access to information.
The report made a number of suggestions to deal with the problem, including the introduction of stricter rules as regards conflict of interest to assist with the identification of such conflicts in time.