For decades now, since the presidency of George Vassiliou, governments have been announcing plans for cutting the bureaucratic delays and arbitrary decisions that so often prevented businesses from moving to Cyprus and discouraged foreign investment. As far back as the late 1980s big concerns were being expressed about the way the different government offices took months, if not years, to process applications by foreign nationals who wanted to set up a business and work here.
At the time the government came up with the idea of having a single service dealing with business applications and later this became the idea of the ‘one-stop shop’ and the setting of timeframes for processing applications. None of this worked. The bureaucrats, for whom customer service is unknown, remained fully in charge of applications, blocking them over trivial details, citing the procedural rules for the delays. No government was able to resolve the issue even though the country was promoted as an international business centre.
This government, aware of the big cost of these delays to the economy, has decided to tackle the problem by simplifying procedures for the employment of third country nationals, family reunification and speeding up the process for granting long-term residence permits. A bill on naturalisations awaits House approval, the aim being for the simplified processes to come into force from the beginning of 2022.
The objective of the new law is to limit the excessive powers of the migration department, the state service at which applications stall. Interior Minister Nicos Nouris diplomatically acknowledged this in a presentation at the presidential palace last Friday during which he said: “With the updating of all the procedures we are moving away from the bureaucratic procedures of the past.” It remains to be seen if the new law will have the desired results, but the fact the new procedures have been incorporated in law, raises hopes as the power of state bureaucrats will have been severely restricted.
Apart from simplifying employment procedures, the government has also introduced a fast-track activation mechanism in the last year. Since October last year it attracted 22 companies and it will now be upgraded to the Business Facilitation Unit that will help a company register in Cyprus, receive name approval and guidance on licence processes etc. This unit presumably will liaise with the registrar of companies, a service that is notorious for its very slow service, to get applications processed faster.
To its credit, the government has gone about addressing this long-standing problem in the correct way. Drafting a law simplifying procedures was the only way to limit the powers of the bureaucrats, who are the main cause for the long delays experienced by applicants. We hope the new law will succeed in putting an end to the bureaucratic powers that undermined the efforts of all governments to attract businesses to Cyprus.