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Our View: It’s no time for MPs to drag their feet over hefty fines for bars

Minister of justice Giorgos Savvides on Wednesday resorted to imploring the political parties to approve the government bill for tougher punishments on businesses that violated the coronavirus decrees.

It had been hoped the bill would have been voted through last Friday but deputies on the House legal affairs committee felt the hefty fines stipulated would be ruinous for businesses, especially at a time when restarting the economy was key, and therefore decided not to forward the bill to the plenum for voting.

Whether deputies will be persuaded by the minister’s public pleas remains to be seen, even though the government’s positions were strengthened last weekend when several establishments were found to have been blatantly ignoring the decrees on social distancing. Pictures and video of a beach bar in Protaras packed with people circulated on social media, prompting the police to take action. The bar was closed by court order, not because it was violating coronavirus measures, which it was, but because it was operating without a necessary licence.

If the bill had been approved, the bar owner would have been liable to €2,000 fine, which would be doubled with every new violation, reaching €8,000 on the third. The law would have allowed police to bring criminal charges against the bar owner as soon as they saw fit. For some of these bars, a two or four thousand euro fine is probably just a small fraction of their weekend turnover, which is why it is important for the police to have the power to bring criminal charges against repeat offenders.

Deputies are usually averse to high fines because they are unpopular. They were dragging their feet for months over the government’s bill for dramatic increases in the fines for traffic violations, seriously considering reducing them. It is an irresponsible and cowardly approach which protects offenders, rather than law-abiding citizens, who are put at risk by dangerous drivers.

The truth is there is no better deterrent to law-breaking than prohibitively high fines. The high cost of law-breaking makes prospective offenders think twice about using their mobile phone while driving. The same reasoning is behind the government’s bill dealing with violations of the coronavirus measures by bars, cafes and restaurants, but it includes the additional deterrent of criminal charges. It is the only way to make those people who are not law-abiding obey the law.

Deputies should accept that the bill was drafted not to increase state revenue, but to ensure there is no surge in coronavirus cases, now the lockdown is over and tourists will start arriving. Owners of bars and restaurants that obey the decrees have nothing to fear, so why are deputies showing such concern in limiting the penalties for the law-breakers?





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