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The long saga behind curbing corruption

Comment Louisa Former Justice Minister Ionas Nicolaou Presented A Bill To Combat Corruption In The Broader Public Sector
Former Justice Minister Ionas Nicolaou presented a bill to combat corruption in the broader public sector

Cyprus established an anti-corruption body back in 2003. It has never functioned

Dr Louisa Borg Haviaras

This article focuses on the state’s role in creating an anti-corruption culture and what the Cypriot state has done so far towards this end. The state functions in the same way a founder/leader/ manager does within an organisation, with a culture characteristic of the country just as it is characteristic of an organisation. The state’s role as the organisational culture leader is to adhere to principles, to guide and intervene in case of a crisis or market failure by implementing by a specific policy and to correct imperfections in the functioning of the system and the organisation. The state also transposes and implements a large number of the acquis communautaire to harmonise Cyprus legislation with the EU. Consequently the country’s performance depends on how the state and all actors act and interact with each other as elements of a collective system of knowledge creation and use, and on their interplay with values, norms and legal frameworks.

Cyprus’ EU accession in 2004 was an external, instrumental factor in implementing necessary reforms at the national level. In the absence of an anti-corruption strategy developed by successive Cypriot governments, in 2002 Europe’s Group of States against Corruption (Greco) recommended the creation of a specialised body to provide advice on anti-corruption policy. On that recommendation, Cyprus established the Coordinating Body against Corruption in 2003 to develop an anti-corruption strategy, officially announced by the then attorney-general. That body never functioned.

The European Commission and the Council of Europe have continued to focus on corruption concerns. In its next report in 2011 Greco recommended:

  • that firm measures be taken in order to ensure that the provisions concerning the criminalisation of corruption as provided for in the Laws 23(III)/2000 and 22(III)/2006 are applied in practice;
  • to make these provisions accessible as part of the criminal legislation;
  • that for the sake of legal certainty, a uniform legal framework for the criminalisation and sanctioning of corruption offences should be created in accordance with the Criminal Law Convention on Corruption (ETS 173) and its Additional Protocol (ETS 191), notably by amending and/or abolishing current legislation.

One wonders what Cyprus had been doing towards curbing corruption after introducing the Coordinating Body against Corruption in 2003. And why, for instance, did Cyprus have to wait for Greco to pinpoint that there must be transparency of political financing?

In its 2016 report Greco recommended the adoption of a code of ethics for members of parliament, dealing with situations such as gifts, third party contacts (lobbying), accessory activities, post-employment situations and many others. It also recommended aiming at reducing the scope of MPs’ immunity protection, where it goes beyond the protection of free speech, opinions and voting in parliament. It is also recommended that MPs in Cyprus be subject to training in ethical matters and that a function of counselling be made available for MPs when faced with difficult situations of conflicting interests.

The former Justice Minister Ionas Nicolaou presented a bill to combat corruption which would establish an independent anti-corruption authority that would investigate the actions and decisions of the broader public sector in an attempt to put an end on all illicit dealings. One may reasonably ask what happened to the previous anti-corruption bill? Why did our MPs need training in ethical matters and what will happen to the next anti-corruption bill? Cyprus is among the countries with the highest number and percentage of non-implemented or only partially implemented recommendations by Greco and yet, according to Greco`s 2018 annual report, those bills relating to corruption are still pending.

We have all seen the sad Al Jazeera video featuring the then president of the House of Representatives and a left wing MP offering their services in exchange of cash to secure citizenship for a non-existent Chinese businessman with a criminal record. This justifiably caused a public outcry and a social media storm over the corruption issue and strong demands for more effective action against such practices.

When Cyprus has so many other challenges to face which threaten its own existence, it is high time our leadership foster and commit to a new attitude and culture. Public servant employees should be trained and their culture altered to respond more effectively to the new external and internal challenges of the national environment. This is an important element that has to be taken into account when implementing reforms. Cultivation of a new meritocratic culture built on the country’s strengths, on employing the right people for the right positions and not on any political or self-interested reasons will potentially eliminate the occurrence of anti-meritocratic characteristics such as nepotism and corruption that prevent the flourishing and strengthening of the national organisational culture.

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