The House on Wednesday accepted four out of seven referrals made by President Nicos Anastasiades on laws related to the environment, family law, refugee property management and education.

The president had sent seven laws back to the House, citing issues with their constitutionality and implementation.

Three were to be discussed by the House legal committee, two by the House refugee committee, and one each by the House education committee and House environment committee.

After the legislation was discussed at committee level, plenum convened in the afternoon to vote on the course of action.

In such a case, MPs can either amend the laws in line with the objections raised by Anastasiades or refuse to do so, in which case the matter can go to the Supreme Court.

The House environment committee examined the Industrial Emissions law, where Anastasiades had asked to amend the legislation to grant authorities the power to allow businesses that were working before the law was implemented, to continue operating without a building and/or planning permit, if all the environmental conditions are being adhered to.

The law would affect 73 premises of which 34 do not have a building or planning permit. This includes the electricity authority and the Paphos waste disposal plant.

According to Anastasiades, it would be impossible to ensure the businesses secured all the permits on time and by January 1, 2024, would have to cease operations.

Amendments to the legislation were accepted at House level, with 41 votes in favour.

At the same time, MPs voted to grant a year’s extension to the executive authority (until 2025 instead of 2024 as provided for by law) to deal with the issues of securing the necessary permits (urban planning permit or building permit or approval certificate) from large facilities such as EAC power plants, landfills and slaughterhouses to have an Industrial Emissions permit.

House Environment committee chair Charalambos Theopemptou expressed his displeasure at the delay, recalling that postponements were given in 2013 and 2018.

He called on the government to either hire temporary workers or proceed with appointments to address the problem. “It’s a government problem and I think it’s unacceptable to make illegality legal,” he said.

Diko MP Chrystanthos Savvides expressed the hope that the two years of extension given would be enough to allow the affected units to secure permits.

At the House legal committee, deputies discussed amendments to the family law that was voted through on December 2. Three laws were discussed at committee level – the law on marriage, the eighteenth amendment act and the family courts amendment act.

During plenum, amendments to the law on marriage, which is part of the legislation for the modernisation of family law, were accepted with 41 votes in favour.

As previously explained during the committee meeting by a representative from the legal service, if the House accepted amendments to the law on marriage, which turned out to be the case, the president’s other two referrals would become moot and would need to be dismissed.

Therefore, citing procedural reasons, the House rejected amendments to the other two laws.

The House also approved amendments to two pieces of legislation regarding immovable property as well as Turkish Cypriot property, discussed by the House refugee committee.

In his referral, Anastasiades had argued that the law, as enacted, violates the principle of separation of powers.

Before the plenary session, committee chair Nicos Kettiros was doubtful the legislation would be reaching the plenum, explaining that the text was still being changed after suggestions from deputies and the legal service itself.

He also said it was clear the interior ministry was to blame for delays in the processing of applications.

“There are currently 1407 applications pending, and 688 would have already been processed if it had not been for its interference,” he said. “All these people are on hold because of the sketchy preparation made by the interior ministry.”

The committee eventually tabled a comprehensive bill, with Kettiros saying that “because the aim is to serve the people,” the House decided to approve amendments so that the matter can be discussed after the presidential elections, and to avoid a possible referral to the Supreme Court.

He added that if the new government does not adopt the bill or delays in re-introducing it, it will be adopted by the House refugee committee as a bill so that the debate can proceed and the issue can be settled.

After an intense debate, the House rejected Anastasiades’ objections on amendments to the law on primary and secondary education regarding the extension of compulsory attendance in pre-primary education from age 4, with 21 votes against and 15 in favour.

According to Anastasiades it appears to bar citizens from the opportunity to register their child in a private nursery if they wish. Additionally, he said the law creates “immense difficulties” in its implementation to offer free pre-primary education, noting it puts at risk the disbursement of €12 million from the Recovery and Resilience Plan.

Taking the floor, House education committee chair Pavlos Mylonas, argued that “we messed up” in terms of public education, while he called for the implementation of a national plan for education.

He said the president’s attitude was hypocritical, making particular reference to the fact Anastasiades had signed the law for the introduction of sex education in schools, which the legal service had ruled unconstitutional, now calling the “huge efforts” made with the law on pre-primary education unconstitutional.

Akel MP Christos Christofides said that the bill had been accepted by the education ministry and included amendments that Disy also voted for.

He added that by sending it back to the House, the president was asking to effectively remove the safeguards included in the bill, also questioning how much the disbursement of €12 million is at risk.

“If amendments are accepted, instead of [the €12 million] going to support public schools, the money will again be shared among a few specific people,” he said.

Diko’s Chrysanthos Savvides spoke of “a la carte behaviours” on part of the president, also mentioning the signing of the sex education law. “We don’t know what happened overnight, he sent it back to the House.”

Edek’s Andreas Apostolou blamed the education ministry, saying that the law had been passed after many hours of discussions and meetings, while the amendments to the government bill had been agreed upon. He asked the president not to refer to the Supreme Court in case his referral was rejected, and to sign the law.

Education Minister Prodromos Prodromou weighed in later in a written statement. “With today’s decision, attendance at public nursery schools is not achieved at all,” he said.

“The result is that the children of the ages covered by this legislation will continue to attend either private education or public nursery schools, where, however, as provided for and in effect today, they pay tuition fees.”