“Pong” is English slang, meaning a very unpleasant smell. The term (bocha, in Greek) probably comes from the Turkish word “bok”, which means shit. This foul smell is emerging in Cyprus in all walks of life.
The civil service stinks, the political parties stink, the trade unions stink, the church stinks, the schools stink, many segments of the society stink. The stench is everywhere and it is suffocating us.
In earlier times, Cyprus was known for its fresh air. Not anymore. The atmosphere has been contaminated and the lack of oxygen is causing respiratory problems. The situation has become unbearable. Either the necessary corrective steps must be taken to confront the problem at its root, or we will be forced to surrender and accept the consequences of our moral degradation and our enslavement to bribery and to concealment.
The truth is that the cleansing of the Augean Stables cannot be accomplished on the basis of wishful thinking and by solemn declarations of intent, which simply aim at neutralising whatever pressure is exerted in the direction of change, thus perpetuating the rotten infrastructure of society. The urgent corrective measures, which need to be taken, are very specific:
- A special court for the prosecution of corruption in the public sector with fast, transparent and reliable procedures.
- Immediate dismissal of all those in the broader public sector (including those employed by independent supervisory authorities), who have been found guilty of corruption by a court of law. Such persons should also be deprived of all their retirement and pension rights.
- Similar arrangements and penalties should apply to those employed by publicly listed companies.
- Automatic abolition of all tax exemptions in the case of religious organisations (including the Orthodox church) if they engage (either directly or through subsidiary entities or through representatives) in any business activity.
- Training of all those involved in securing the proper functioning of the state to ensure that they are, in fact, in a position to objectively assess the substantive compliance of citizens with the legislated rules (in contrast to the mechanistic approach that is currently taken to confirm compliance that invariably leads to the straining out of gnats while swallowing camels).
At this point, let me identify an inherent contradiction in the criticism which often focuses on the members of the cabinet and the president himself. Undoubtedly, these senior state executives carry absolute responsibility and must be punished when they ignore or overturn the proposals and the suggestions of their subordinates, without fully justifying their action or when there is fraud or gross negligence involved in the discharging of their duties.
In the remaining cases, however, the prime responsibility should fall on the shoulders of the subordinates, who have formulated the proposals/suggestions and on the shoulders of their associates. The justification for such an arrangement is obvious. If the president and the cabinet ministers were in a position to deal single-handedly with the problems confronting them, then all the remaining civil servants should be dismissed as by definition they would have no role to play.
One of the many reasons why I support the reunification of Cyprus is that the reintegration of Turkish Cypriots into the civil service will greatly assist in the fight against corruption in both parts of Cyprus. There are clear indications that included in the separatists are those who are afraid that the reintegration of Turkish Cypriots in the civil service will constitute a barrier to or contain their illegal activities.
Finally, I feel the need to say a few words about the law of silence (omerta) which has been imposed and regrettably has been accepted by society. I feel really sad and disappointed when I meet Cypriots, who, on my prompting to raise their voice and get involved in the public debate, they respond by saying that they are unwilling to do it because they are afraid that by doing so their prospects for advancement or their professional activities or their business operations will be negatively affected. In fact, they go a step further to claim that the interests of their children and other family members might also be affected.
In my opinion, these people, by keeping their mouth shut, become accomplices to corruption. They become accomplices by bowing and embracing the Sicilian proverb that “whoever does not hear, does not see and does not speak, lives for one hundred years”. They say that the Cypriot version of this proverb reads as follows: “whoever does not hear, does not see and does not speak, lives for one hundred years, in comfort and blissfulness”. What a pity!
Christos Panayiotides is a regular columnist for the Cyprus Mail, Sunday Mail and Alithia