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Our View: Benefits given to retired top officials amount to lawful theft

limos

During the state budget debate, the Green Party, once again, tried to block the spending item for former presidents of the republic and former presidents of the legislature, that cover their petrol expenses and the cost of having a full-time secretary. The total expense is a meagre €205,000, which will not make any difference to public finances, but it is not the amount that is the issue but the way the system allows politicians to maximise their earnings at the expense of the taxpayer.

There are currently one former president of the republic and three former presidents of the House, who will soon be joined by another former president. They will take about €40,000 each, while they are also entitled to a state car and a policeman as chauffeur. Of this amount, €36,000 is to pay for a secretary and the remainder to fill up their petrol-guzzling state limos with fuel. The policeman/chauffeur is paid from the state payroll as he remains a public employee. These benefits, enshrined in law more than 30 years ago, were to ensure top state officials had a ‘dignified’ living, on retirement.

For these former state officials, a dignified living is guaranteed by a monthly state pension of between €4,000 and €5,000, an amount that most of the population do not receive even when they are working. Could they not pay their petrol bill out of their state pension? They would argue that if they are provided with a state limo and chauffeur, the state should cover the cost of the use of the car, which raises another question: why is someone who served as House president – a ceremonial post – for a minimum of 30 months, entitled to a state limo and chauffeur for the rest of their life?

This is nothing compared to the scandalous ‘allowance for secretary’, which is lawful theft of the taxpayer. Former presidents collect the €3,000 allowance every month, irrespective of whether they employ a secretary. Even if one employs a secretary on a part-time basis, for €1000 a month he will still receive the full allowance. In an earlier report of the audit office it was suggested that the beneficiaries of this state largesse should provide the treasury with documentation (invoices, receipts) before collecting these allowances, but the suggestion, predictably, was ignored. It would mean losing the €3,000 per month tax-free income, labelled ‘secretary allowance’.

In effect we have made receiving money under false pretenses lawful for the retired highest-ranking state officials. They collect, the ‘secretary allowance’ even if they have never employed a secretary and we doubt any of them have ever returned the monthly allowance to the state because they do not need a full-time secretary. What is astonishing is that only one politician, Giorgos Perdikis, submitted a proposal for abolishing these benefits some years ago, but received no support from any of his colleagues, because all the politicians enjoy privileges. By depriving former presidents of their privileges, the privileges enjoyed by deputies, themselves, might also be challenged.

It does not really need to be said that none of the parties supported the Greens initiative to stop the ‘secretary allowance’.

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