DEPUTIES took turns to attack the banks for the excessive charges they impose on their customers, accusing them of profiteering and doing as they pleased. High bank charges for payment of utility bills, cash withdrawals and bank transfers were discussed at Wednesday’s House institutions committee because of the many complaints made to members, said the chairman Zacharias Zachariou.
Those affected the most by the excessive charges were people on low pensions and minimum guaranteed income, said Zachariou, who engaged in the obligatory populism. “Hands off people on low pensions like our parents,” he said. “Charge as much as you want on those that have money. Do not mess with people on low pensions.” He also said that the legislature had set a deadline of the end of January for ministries and the central bank to study the possibility of lowering bank charges for vulnerable groups.
What is a perfectly legitimate complaint against the banks, which are indeed imposing high charges on transactions, has been turned into another excuse for populism. Can the executive or the legislature decide what a private business, like a bank, charges its customers in a market economy? And on what legal grounds would a bank charge a pensioner less money for a transaction than other customers when it is providing the exact same service? Are the banks going to means test every customer before they decide what to charge them?
Does the state charge lower road tax or a smaller fee for issuing official certificates to people on low pensions? It does not, so why would any politician expect a bank to vary its charges in accordance to a customer’s income? This is political theatre of the most cynical type and deputies from most of the parties were taking part. They all know they can do nothing to control what a bank decides to charge – this is not a command economy – but they still make a fuss, knowing they have nothing to lose because nobody has any sympathy for banks fleecing their customers at every opportunity.
With interest rates at record low levels, the banks have to make money from somewhere and deputies know this just as they know that neither the ministers nor the central bank can do anything to stop the high charges. Perhaps they are hoping people will forget about the matter by the end of January, the deadline they have given to the ministers to come up with a solution. If they thought there was a way of lowering charges, why did none of the complaining deputies suggest it?