By Christos P Panayiotides
The statements of wealth of politically exposed persons, which were recently published for the second time, are a huge political scandal. Many commentators have already pointed out that, on the whole, the particulars published were totally meaningless and useless.
In September 2017, when these statements of wealth were first published, I pointed out – in no uncertain terms – that “including the assets and the liabilities of spouses and under-age children in the capital statements (an alternative term used to describe the statements of wealth) is an absolute must. Excluding spouses and children renders the process a totally meaningless and wasteful exercise. … You may as well scrap the system altogether, if you do not want to include the spouses and under-age kids”.
But this was not the sole problem that was identified at the time. I also suggested that the statements of wealth should be signed by the person compiling them and his/her spouse and that a certified public accountant needed to certify the statements for reasonableness and completeness and for being in harmony with other related records (such as accounting records kept, tax returns filed, bank statements etc.).
I said, at the time, that “the involvement of a professional accountant in the process will – as a minimum – eliminate the blatant mistakes committed by the ignorance and technical deficiency (and, possibly, the intention to mislead) of those having the obligation to compile and file such statements”.
Not to mention the adding (in relation to the values at which the individual assets are reported) of potatoes and apples to end up with a nice potato salad!
And I concluded my article by saying that “the failure to correct the serious problems and deficiencies identified in the legislation previously enacted would be a strong indication that the requirements (then) introduced were merely intended to give the impression that the public interest was being protected but, in reality, it was left as exposed as it could possibly be”.
Two years later, all the evidence is pointing in the direction that those who enacted the legislation governing the compilation and publication of statements of wealth were merely aiming at setting up a smoke screen.
I consider this behaviour on the part of our lawmakers as totally unacceptable. They are keeping quiet about this huge problem in the hope that the issue will be swept under the carpet, as happened two years ago. I believe that the public must exercise the political pressure necessary to address this fundamental problem of how our democracy is run.
The only way forward is to appoint an independent committee (comprising three independent accountants) to redraft the relevant legislation within a short period of time (say, a month) and present it for enactment as a matter of priority. A clear definition of what is required and spelling out the consequences of misleading the public in unambiguous terms are prerequisites for achieving the goals of the exercise.
Otherwise, the lawmakers should scrap the law because it is a useless and wasteful piece of legislation.
Christos Panayiotides is a regular columnist for the Cyprus Mail, Sunday Mail and Alithia