Revisions to the law on the management of Turkish Cypriot properties are expected to be tabled to parliament in October to cover a multi-million deficit, Interior Minister Nicos Nouris said on Friday, amid recent flare ups over issues related to the leasing of such properties.
Earlier in the week, a list was submitted to the house refugee committee with the names of employees at the Turkish Cypriot Property Management Service and members of advisory committees for the properties, who are also owners of such properties.
The committee passed the list on to the attorney-general’s office and the audit office, which are already conducting investigations into Turkish Cypriot properties, one for commercial properties and one for the public sector employees that own said properties.
Speaking to CyBC’s morning radio programme, Nouris said that as he mentioned last year in parliament, there is a deficit in the Turkish Cypriot Property Management Fund, where the rents and immovable property are to be registered and collected. The deficit is €7 million.
“The deficit should not exist, as the taxpayer is then burdened with the cost,” he told CyBC.
The fund, according to Nouris is meant to have €15 million in it, but due to a failure to adjust rentals on the properties, people are ‘paying peanuts,’ and the fund only has €8 million in it.
He cited the example of a case in Polis Chrysochou, where an individual has an agricultural property of 700,000 square metres with am annual rental price of only €50.
To remedy these imbalances, Nouris said that the ministry had moved forward with two studies, and proposed revisions to the existing bills to clarify.
He said from June the revisions have been in the hands of the attorney-general’s office, which is expected to pass them on to parliament for a vote in October.
Meanwhile, the audit office is also expected to complete its investigation into these properties in October.
“We did what we needed to do to correct these mistakes,” Nouris said.
According to the minister, the revisions will split the properties into three categories, residential, agricultural, and commercial.
For all the cases, priority will be given to Greek Cypriot refugees from the 1974 Turkish invasion, as had always been done.
Regarding the commercial properties, Nouris said that for large commercial areas that are Turkish Cypriot land and from which they hope to cover the deficit, a bidding will be opened for refugees, and if there is no interest then it will be launched to the wider Cypriot public.
Commenting on whether it was wrong for non-refugees to have Turkish Cypriot land as has happened in some cases, Nouris said it was ‘not wrong’ as these parcels of land or homes were given at a time when no refugee had expressed interest.
Regarding the rental agreements for these properties, Nouris said the revisions they propose will fix the situation, as after the expiration of their current contracts, lessees of these Turkish Cypriot properties will strike a new restructured agreements.
Another revision proposed is for the right of heirs to inherit a Turkish Cypriot property. Nouris said that before this proposal, people leasing Turkish Cypriot properties had no motive or incentive to upkeep it as it would not pass on to their children.
With this revision, Nouris said they hope to remedy that situation.
Commenting on the matter, Paphos Mayor Phedonas Phedonos asked Nouris if this proposal would therefore legalise all the violations of the past.
Nouris said: “A person, who owns a building, doesn’t take care of it since there no right of refugees to leave it as an inheritance. This [the revision to the law] will give them motive to upkeep the homes that their children may inherit.”
On Tuesday, the house refugee committee received a list of 27 people from the advisory committees on management of Turkish Cypriot properties and from the government services itself to send to the audit office and the attorney-general’s office.
The 16 individuals are officers and staff currently at the service, while 11 names are people from the district advisory committees.
The names were submitted to the House Refugee Committee six months after committee president Nicos Kettiros had requested it from Interior Minister Nicos Nouris.
The committee heard that the individuals received a property themselves or through companies in which they are shareholders, or close family members did.
“The list needs to be handled carefully to prevent a witch hunt,” Kettiros told CyBC after the meeting.
Operating under the interior ministry, the Custodian of Turkish Cypriot properties is charged with ‘leasing’ these properties to refugees but has repeatedly been accused of mismanagement and favouritism. Complaints have included reports of cases where the best property had been leased to those with connections, and cases where the lease has been ridiculously low.