The Cyprus Mail has sent questions to the main presidential candidates in next week’s elections. Over the next week we will be reprinting them in the order we received them. Today it is the turn of Achilleas Demetriades
What are the three main issues that are at stake in the coming presidential elections?
The main issue is, I believe, the restoration of the country’s credibility. Without it we cannot operate as a well functioning state. I would break the issue in two parts.
First our credibility internationally which has been tarnished due to the “golden passports” scandal, the Pandora papers references to the President of the Republic and more recently the wiretapping scandal with the infamous “black van”. This in addition to
how our credibility politically has been damaged through the president’s handling of the Cyprus problem in Crans-Montana and the continuing impasse in the negotiations, as detailed in the latest report by the UN Secretary General.
Secondly, our credibility within the country has also been damaged and the people have lost their trust in government. The inability of the independent institutions to safeguard the honest functioning of the government and the rule of law creates an environment where corruption has become endemic and people seem to feel resigned to it.
Changing those who represent a continuation of this situation is paramount, if we are to restore our credibility at home and abroad.
The standard of living of most people has been negatively affected by the rising prices – do you have any specific plans for helping people deal with the rising cost of living?
Inflation is affecting negatively all of us. Unfortunately it affects people with low income disproportionately. It is for this reason that we need to provide support in a targeted way.
We can do this through utilizing the increased revenues from VAT which arise from the rising prices and through specific taxation on the windfall profits that energy companies have amassed from the increase in energy prices.
At the same time we need to address the pricing system of energy so as to provide a more robust disincentive to the large consumption of electricity.
As a long-term measure we need to push harder on expanding green energy through the effective use of funds from the EU. There is ample scope for improvement in this respect as we only use a small percentage of our energy mix from green energy as compared to most European countries.
The standing of the country abroad has been tarnished by the issuing of golden passports, which has also landed us in trouble with the Brussels. We have also been at the centre of European Parliament investigations regarding the illegal surveillance software. How do you plan to improve our country’s image abroad?
As I mentioned above restoring our credibility is my primary concern as without it we are missing a key element of a well functioning state. The 3 “main” contenders for the office of the President, being part of the outgoing administration (to a different degree and in different ways each of them), do not inspire the confidence that they can make the changes necessary to restore our lost credibility.
As for the measures that I would take, I propose the following: the Council of Ministers should appoint a lawyer to criminally investigate the “golden passports” scandal with assistance from the European Legal service. Secondly, the introduction of a code of conduct for the President and the Council of Ministers so as to avoid issues of conflict of interest as recommended by GRECO. Thirdly, to introduce finally the much-discussed legislation on the disclosure of sources of funds for public officials. Last but not least, the competencies of the Office of the Attorney General should be separated into that of the Public Prosecutor and that of the Government Counsel to avoid the on-going conflict of interest.
Can you give us three practical measures you would take in order to deal with the migration problem?
First, I would cancel the appointment of the 300 new guards along the Green Line and replace them with 300 qualified personnel to be trained to handle the asylum applications so that they can be speedily and fairly resolved within a three-month timeframe. Currently some 30,000 applications are still pending examination.
Second, set up a technical committee on migration comprising Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots to operate along the same lines as other bicommunal committees do. Third, participation of Cyprus in the EU-Turkey dialogue on immigration at the highest level.
Is there an innovative project that your Presidency would undertake.
The establishment of a bi-communal teaching hospital in the buffer zone (I have always favored the old Nicosia airport area) which can be a model in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Gesy has been under pressure plagued by overspending, staff strikes, complaints by patients. Can things be made better and, if yes, how?
GESY is a great achievement for the people and I support it, but it needs adjustment to address the problems it is facing. A special independent monitoring body is operating on the basis of current legislation, but unfortunately it is essentially inactive. What needs to be done is for GESY to retain all that is functioning properly and in a positive way, and correct, through this body, all that is wrong.
Housing is becoming unaffordable in parts of the country. What can be done to help people for whom housing is a big problem?
The housing problem is fundamentally a problem of inadequate supply of housing units catering for the average household. Incentives have been given to promote the building of “towers” without giving adequate attention to the needs of the average citizen. This policy must be redirected to provide incentives for the large-scale supply of affordable housing units.
Until this action can bear results, the state can in the short term introduce a policy on “Accessible Housing” and work with various state bodies and social organizations to support those people who need assistance to buy their house.
There is great inequality between workers of the private and public sector – in terms of pay, pensions, job security, work conditions – which undermines social cohesion that you value. Do you believe this unfairness should be addressed?
I agree that there is inequality, I see that clearly and I also agree with you that it undermines social cohesion. To address this we need long-term policies and time to rebalance the economy by creating well paying jobs in the private sector. Such plans have been designed – look at the Cyprus vision 2035 recommendations – but unfortunately they remain in the bureaucracy drawers. As an independent candidate I am not held back by vested interests to implement such policies.
Will you follow the practice of seeking the archbishop’s approval for the person who will be appointed education minister?
The Constitution provides for a secular state. For me the state and the church have clearly different roles. The appointment of the Minister of Education is the president’s choice. There is no further discussion on this matter.
Would your government be prepared to introduce same-sex marriage and allow the adoption of a child by same-sex couple as is the practice in most European countries?
I am interested in human rights, I defend these rights. Consequently the state cannot regulate the private life of its citizens. Therefore, individual choices are there and the state cannot interfere with them.
Would you support the legalisation of marijuana?
I believe that society is ready for a discussion on the issue. I would support the convention of citizens assemblies to debate the issue and provide recommendations to the House of Representatives.