Chairman of the House refugees committee Nicos Kettiros had written to the interior ministry last February asking for a list of names of civil servants of the Service for the Administration of Turkish Cypriot Properties who (or their close relatives) have such properties in their possession. He also asked for the names of people on the advisory committees that make decisions about these properties and might also have benefited.
The list was finally submitted to the committee last Friday, six months after it had been requested. Sixteen civil servants were included on this list and 11 committee members, who mainly represented farming associations. Civil servants, reportedly, had prevented the sending of the list all this time, claiming it would constitute a violation of personal data. It is astonishing that protection of personal data is now being used for the wrong reasons.
On Wednesday, Politis newspaper, which had obtained the interior ministry’s list, published the names and titles of all the 27 individuals and the properties in each one’s possession. The paper said it had published the information for the sake of transparency and public accountability, stressing that this did not mean any of them had committed any criminal or disciplinary offence. If there had been any wrongdoing, only the investigations by the audit office and the attorney-general would show this.
It was an understandably cautious stance, but the newspaper was correct to publish the names because for too long there has been no scrutiny of the service, which was administering properties worth hundreds of millions, if not billions, of euro. A shake-up of the service is necessary, because for close to 50 years it and the advisory committees had done as they liked without any government prepared to undertake a much-needed clean-up. This was because the entire political establishment was involved in arranging TC properties for ‘their’ people regardless of whether they were eligible.
Every few years allegations of mismanagement of these properties – what has been described as the big party – were made but once the noise died down nothing was done. Governments claimed they were tightening legislation, drafting criteria, advertising the properties available, but the problem persists. There will be another investigation now, but whether it will shed any light on the corruption and conflict of interest remains to be seen. We have our doubts as the biggest irregularities took place many years ago and nobody will dare touch them.
One thing that could be done now is for the authorities to go through all the agreements made to ensure the beneficiaries have been paying their dues and honouring the contracts they had signed. And perhaps the interior ministry should make public the names of all the people that have been exploiting these properties without paying.