After all the noise made about corruption, which was highlighted by the Al Jazeera investigation into golden passports, the government announced a series of plans to combat it. There is, however, competition from the legislature which has been ineffectively overseeing the ‘pothen esches’ (capital statement) law that has been in force for 16 years now but has proved a mockery.
The government plans to clamp down on corruption and conflicts of interest through setting up the National Service of Integrity that will look at the capital statements of the president, ministers, deputies, state officials as well as those of their spouses and children. All the statements collected would be posted on a portal so there is transparency. It is unclear who would staff the Integrity Service and carry out the audit of the statements.
Meanwhile, the House Ethics Committee last Wednesday also discussed ways of improving the ‘pothen esches’ law, which has been little more than a joke. None of the statements submitted were checked by anyone, deputies failed to complete the forms properly, leaving out information as they chose. The president and ministers also submitted forms, which were available on the legislature website for a limited time.
After the public outcry, the political parties decided to tighten the existing law and discussions are currently under way. The objective, chairman of the House Ethics Committee Demetris Demetriou said was to draft a new law, “over which there will be no shadow and transparency will prevail in the statements of political persons”. There could have been no clearer admission of the ineffectiveness of the existing law.
The new element in the law is that the evaluation of the statements would be outsourced to professionals and no longer be carried out by deputies, who were unqualified to perform such a task; it was also unlikely they would report a colleague in the unlikely event that they spotted an irregularity.
Assuming the legislature eventually drafts and approves the new law there would be major overlap in authorities with the National Service of Integrity. Will the two services be competing as to which one will expose politicians who used their position to become rich or gave misleading information in their capital statement? The Service of Integrity, if properly staffed and managed, could perform this task effectively and become the bane of politicians and state officials.
It is, however, a big ‘if’. The law governing its operation has still to be drafted as the justice ministry is currently in consultation with the legislature about its provisions. How ironic that the government is seeking the input of the legislature which managed to turn ‘pothen esches’ into a joke.