PRESIDENT Anastasiades felt obliged to answer the accusations of corruption directed at his government and him personally in a televised address which he gave on Thursday night. Was this necessary, considering his spokesmen and those of Disy have been doing little else in the last few months than denying the charges levelled against his government, particularly in relations to the citizenship by investment programme?
In fact, the government’s communications strategy, which consists of continuously issuing responses to Akel and Diko, has contributed to keeping the issue in the public domain for months now. Thursday night’s address suggested the president has still not understood this point, offering his detractors fuel to keep the fire of public attacks burning brightly. A barrage of criticism will follow Thursday night’s address, no matter how compelling the arguments used by the president might seem.
He conceded there were gaps and weaknesses in the citizenship scheme, with regards to supervision, but said the government had amended it six times in the last eight years; abuse and criminal actions were still not avoided, he added. The scheme was terminated, a committee for examining and revoking citizenships was set up and the attorney-general appointed an investigative committee to look into the whole programme.
He also pointed out the political exploitation of the auditor-general by parties which presented him as “the only honest and trustworthy person to carry out investigations,” and implied that “the president and the government, because they were corrupt, were afraid of scrutiny.” Anastasiades also had a justifiable dig at the parties, that that had supported the citizenship programme and never carried any scrutiny of it, pointing out that only after it was abolished, did they table 10 subjects for discussion in the legislature.
Anastasiades also mentioned the great strides made in fighting corruption, noting the plaudits his government had received from the European Commission (for sentencing 37 people for corruption), Moneyval and FinCEN (for combating money laundering) and GRECO among others. And of course, a raft of government measures for fighting corruption would be announced today, underlining the commitment to a major clean-up.
These arguments may put across a strong case for the government, but they are unlikely to sway the many people that have already made up their mind, for a very obvious reason – the president’s family business benefited financially from a state policy conceived and implemented by his cabinet. For most people this is the definition of corruption and no matter how many investigations are carried out and measures against corruption taken it will not change their perception.
Anastasiades may now be a victim of “calculated distortion through the spread of fake rumours or the production of dirt,” as he complained, but he only has himself to blame for allowing his family law office to reap significant financial benefit from the scheme.