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Our View: Public perceptions of corruption won’t change until parties change

More than nine out of 10 Cypriots consider the problem of corruption to be widespread. According the latest Eurobarometer survey 95 per cent of Cypriots see endemic corruption compared to an EU average of 71 per cent. Some 69 per cent believe that it has increased in the last three years; 88 per cent think there is corruption in local and district public institutions and 89 per cent see it also in national institutional organs of the state. Cypriots’ responses are about 20 percentage points above the EU average, which would indicate there is a problem.

While public perceptions might not be an accurate reflection of reality and there is no reliable method for measuring corruption, the abjectly negative view of people cannot be dismissed lightly, even 91 per cent of Cypriot respondents said they had not been witness to corruption in the last 12 months. Regardless of this, there is very low trust in institutions. For instance, 59 per cent believe there is corruption in healthcare, 54 per cent considers it exists in the issuing of permits for shops, 53 per cent think it exists in the police and customs service and 52 per cent among officials that grant building permits and award public contracts.

Some 63 per cent of citizens consider corruption to be widespread in the political parties a point that was not ignored in comments about the survey made by Akel spokesman Stefanos Stefanou. “The responsibility for changing this (perception) belongs primarily to the parties, to the very political system of the country.” Needless to say that to change perceptions, practices need to change and it is not enough to pay lip service to principles such as transparency and meritocracy while doing nothing to pursue them.

For years, political parties have been resisting the advice of the Council of Europe to make public the names of their donors, so how could they talk about transparency? The main method of attracting voters is by dispensing favours to people, but, they are just theoretically champions of meritocracy. Deputies enjoy special privileges (tax free income labelled ‘allowances’, maximum state pensions for minimum periods of service) that no other citizen enjoys. This inequality before the law is also a form of corruption that was not mentioned in the Eurobarometer survey, but is safeguarded by the political parties.

Given that what Stefanou described as the “political system of the country” benefits from corrupt practices, both financially and politically, on a collective and individual basis, is it realistic to expect this political system to embark on a clean-up promoting transparency, meritocracy and equal treatment of citizens? We think not, which is why public perceptions about corruption are unlikely to change any time soon.

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