By Achilleas Demetriades
Public opinion is watching, day in day out, developments linked to the Pandora papers, and some months before that, the Al Jazeera revelations.
The Pandora papers issue was brought before the European Parliament, which, almost unanimously, called on the “authorities of the member states involved to carry out appropriate investigations within their jurisdiction, into any possible irregularities which have been revealed, and proceed with investigations into all personalities mentioned in the Pandora Papers”.
It is a general observation, that Cyprus has reached rock bottom, when it comes to issues of corruption.
Public opinion demands answers. Many believe that it is already too late for anything to be done. I do not share this belief. We have the possibility to make things better.
We can reach the level of other, more European-oriented countries. You may very well ask how this can be done. Here is what we propose:
- The House of Representatives, which has for years been discussing ways to set up an Independent Authority against Corruption, must enact the relevant legislation, provided of course, that it justifies the purpose for which it is established. The members of this Authority should be persons widely accepted and respected and with real authority that will allow them to conduct effective investigations. The Authority must cooperate with the European Commission and the European Public Prosecutor’s Office in investigations into corruption cases. We want the European Union on our side in the fight against corruption, not stand on the opposing side.
- The transparency of financial affairs of public figures, needs to be regulated by updating existing legislation. The declaration of their financial position must be submitted annually, just as the income tax return is, and there must be an effective comparison to identify any changes. Citizens are entitled to know the annual financial position of elected officials and their close relatives as well as any changes that may occur. They are also entitled to an explanation with respect to any such changes.
- The rules on transparency must be based on the rules set out by GRECO for the whole of Europe. We need to have a declaration of exemption in cases of conflict of interest as well as a code of conduct which ministers and members of parliament must observe. GRECO makes recommendations on these, but without a political will to enforce them we cannot move forward in a decisive manner.
- The regulations which will avert a conflict of interest in exercising authority must be in the public domain so that all citizens are familiar with them and can demand that they are adhered to.
- The President, the highest-ranking state official, must be the first to comply with the rules for transparency. The President also has an obligation to keep the public informed, by electronically providing a record of his weekly meetings. Citizens have a right to inquire, and the Presidency has the responsibility to provide answers, promptly, in relation to its activities, responsibilities and duties.
- The President’s appointments must come under the scrutiny of the House, in an advisory manner. The House should have the chance to evaluate the suitability of the proposed candidates and consequently the appointments will be done based on specific selection criteria. In this way there are criteria set-up in the exercise of the President’s authority in order to safeguard against cronyism.
- The state must implement greater electronic governance to reduce bureaucracy, curb the lack of transparency and respond to people’s inquiries quickly. Electronic rules are common to everybody. This will help enhance the credibility of the state and render it more effective.
- Unfortunately, Cyprus’ name has become synonymous with corruption. Anybody who travels abroad becomes aware of this. We do not deserve such a bad name. We all have a responsibility to change this. Primarily however, the main responsibility lies with the political leadership.
- Leaders have an additional responsibility in making decisions to lead by example. A leader must be the first to comply with the rules and regulations because this is the only way to safeguard public life, by having rules which are adhered to.
I do believe we have to embrace change, transparency and improve public life through principles which will be implemented and rules which will be adhered to.
Achilleas Demetriades is a partner at the Lellos P Demetriades law office LLC