By Christos P Panayiotides
The onus of proof of the presidential candidates that they mean business when they claim that they are determined to reunite Cyprus and to combat corruption and collusion falls on their shoulders, not on the electorate. Nor can they expect vague promises of the type “I will do my best” to be considered satisfactory.
As I had predicted, the Cyprus problem and the fight against corruption and collusion are emerging as the main issues of the election campaign, despite the efforts of certain candidates to avoid them. The Cyprus problem concerns the very survival of Greek Cypriots (and Turkish Cypriots) on this island, while corruption and collusion encourage those in power to show no interest in their long-term survival, but instead to concentrate on accumulating wealth, so that at the time of the great exodus, they will have sufficient resources outside of Cyprus to enable them to carry on having the comfortable life they have been enjoying so far.
This explains the flat refusal of the political establishment to proceed with the adoption of those measures that would drastically curtail corruption and collusion amongst the politically exposed persons, irrespective of whether they are in government or in the so-called opposition. Let me remind you that the protagonists of the Al Jazeera documentary were Demetris Syllouris (initially a senior officer of Disy, expelled from the party in 2004 to become a leading figure in Euroco and ultimately in Solidarity and was elected president of the House in 2016), and Christakis Tziovanis (a senior Akel member and MP from 2011 to 2020, when he resigned after the Al Jazeera scandal had erupted).
Thus, it is easy to explain the fact that the law on the compilation and publication of statements of wealth by politically exposed persons, which was first passed in 2004 in the context of the accession of Cyprus to the European Union, has never worked properly, mainly because of the effective refusal of successive governments, in collaboration with the lawmakers, to bring about those changes in the legislation that would have rendered its provisions an effective tool for combating corruption.
At the beginning of 2021, Nicos Syrimis and myself, two retired accountants, well-conversant with the subject, and Sir Christopher Pissarides, an internationally renowned economist, drafted and published detailed proposals as to how the problem of corruption and collusion among politically exposed persons could be tackled overnight. And while these detailed proposals were enthusiastically accepted by most of the political parties of Cyprus, they ended up in the waste basket, where they continue to be to this day.
From the beginning of 2021 until today, grandiose proclamations and promises have been made from all political parties and presidential candidates as to their intentions to fight corruption and collusion, but nothing has been seen so far in terms of tangible results.
I have been consistently making this point in my articles over an extended period of time. The point was recently amplified in the 2022 Report of the European Commission on the Rule of Law that was published last Wednesday. The report, in its chapter on Cyprus, specifically refers to the need to “introduce rules on asset disclosure for elected officials to establish regular and comprehensive filing, combined with effective, regular and full verifications”, which is exactly what I have been advocating.
Recently, a five-member Committee against Corruption was formed, with the appointment of Charis Poyiatzis, as transparency commissioner, and Michael Constantinides, Nikos Zambakides, Elena Patera Demosthenous and Tatiana Zachariadou, as members of the committee. The transparency commissioner is a lawyer by profession and has served as a district judge from 2003 to 2020. Elena Patera Demosthenous is also a lawyer. Nikos Zambakides served for many years as general manager of the Nicosia Water Board, while Michael Constantinides has served as director general of the agriculture ministry and health ministry and as president of Cyprus Airways. Tatiana Zachariadou is a sociologist.
The terms of reference of the anti-corruption commission, as specified in the recently passed legislation, are so broad that they may make the commission’s work impossible. This is how the vague promise made by the transparency commissioner can be explained. “We hope that over time, the best possible and most effective functioning of the authority will be attained,” he said. Personally, I do not like the verb “we hope”, while I fear that “the best possible and most effective functioning of the authority” may prove to be well below the minimum required.
However, I do not question the good intentions of the commission’s members. I imagine that given the urgent need to combat corruption, they will work over the next few months seven days a week to present, by this coming autumn, a comprehensive and well-designed action plan, which will be implemented without delay. I wholeheartedly wish them every success.
In my capacity as an experienced accountant, who recognises the difficulties of the work they have undertaken, I would ask them to allow me to give them a piece of advice. The study of the Panayiotides-Syrimis-Pissarides team on the subject of “pothen esches” (“where the funds have come from”) can still be easily found on the website www.pothen-esches-cyprus. If they press on with the adoption of the proposals contained in that study, and if they manage to avoid the pressure likely to be exerted for discounts and compromises, they will definitely see tangible results within a very short period of time.
Furthermore, if the presidential candidates do mean what they say about their determination to fight corruption and collusion, then I call on them to take the following action steps, regardless of whether they have a legal obligation to do so:
- Compile and publish a periodic (either monthly or once every two months) statement of the sources and the applications of their election campaign funds (ideally on a uniform basis, in order to facilitate comparisons).
- Compile and publish, jointly with their spouse and underage children, a statement of their wealth, as of 31 December 2020 and 2021 and “bridge” the net changes in their wealth with the income they have declared for 2021 (on the basis proposed by the Panayiotides-Syrimis-Pissarides team, so that meaningful conclusions can be drawn).
Once the president of the Republic is declared, publishing this kind of information will be meaningless. Knowing that we have elected a corrupt president is of little practical value. You probably know the saying “once you distance yourself from the cashier, no error is recognised”.
Christos Panayiotides is a regular columnist for Sunday Mail and Alithia