The Cyprus Mail continues its series of articles with the main presidential candidates. Today, we pose questions to Constantinos Christofides
What do you think are three main issues at stake in elections?
The tectonic shifts we are experiencing in geopolitics, technology and climate change indicate we are at a turning point in history. Cyprus can seize this momentum by electing a leader who cares for future generations more than he cares for future elections.
Against this backdrop, the most important issues at stake in the coming elections are the following:
- the dire need to defeat corruption, which deprives our state of public funds and severely harms our reputation, while also causing the loss of trust in institutions
- the need for our country to transition into a self-sufficient energy model that is based entirely on renewable energy sources
- the urgency of settling the Cyprus question through a comprehensive settlement into a bizonal, bicommunal federation.
The standard of living of most people has been affected negatively by the rising prices. How do you plan to help people deal with the rising cost of living?
Effectively addressing increased costs of living cannot take place through short-term fixes or temporary solutions. We intend to implement measures with a lasting impact and the widest possible reach, such as:
- introducing a salary subsidy plan for new entrants to the labour market, with predefined criteria in terms of the salary level, working conditions and on-the-job training
- reforming the tax regime, amongst others by extending the 20% tax rate to the income band between €19,501 to €35,000 and abolishing the deemed dividend special contribution on 70% of profit not distributed in companies
- developing a special housing plan for new households based on income and asset criteria
- gradually increasing the minimum pension
- enhancing the resources of the Commission for the Protection of Competition to enable it to carry out swift investigations into collusive conduct in markets that harm consumers the most.
Any effective solution to increased costs of living should tackle the cause of the problem. At the core of my proposals is the transformation of our country’s energy profile, which will drastically relieve financial pressure on households and businesses. Specifically, the following measures will be implemented on an urgent basis, to achieve considerable savings through the use of cheap clean energy:
- simplifying procedures and upgrading incentive schemes for renewable energy sources at households and businesses
- upgrading the electricity supply network so that it can accommodate significantly increased electricity produced by renewable energy sources
- enhance incentives for the purchase of electric cars
- reform the operating framework for public transport and introduce electric trams in urban centres.
The standing of the country abroad has been tarnished by the issuing of golden passports. 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?
Investigating, prosecuting and punishing corruption offences will aptly demonstrate how Cyprus is a jurisdiction in which the Rule of Law prevails. The offshore services model as a staple of our economic activity must also be gradually phased out.
The key proposals of our ambitious anti-corruption plan are the following:
- Separating attorney-general into two authorities: (i) an independent prosecutorial authority, such as the Crown Prosecution Service in the UK, and (ii) counsel to the state. This will eliminate conflicts of interest arising from circumstances where the attorney-general is both counsel for a state official and at the same time is the only person who can decide to prosecute this official.
- Independent prosecutorial authority subject to judicial review. The independent prosecutorial authority’s decisions to prosecute (or not prosecute) any person will be subject to judicial review, which is not possible today.
- Anti-corruption task force. We propose the establishment of a task force, staffed by Cypriots and nationals from other EU member states, dedicated to investigating potential corruption and bribery offences in all respects.
- Enhanced transparency for politicians and state officials. We will increase the transparency on the assets and liabilities of politically exposed persons and their dependents
Can you give us three practical measures you would take in order to deal with the migration problem?
Technological surveillance. Modern means of surveillance can be used to monitor areas through which individuals cross into the territory under the effective control of the government of the Republic. Surveillance drones equipped with face recognition technology (that respects fundamental rights) can be used to monitor, record and substantiate, as applicable. A special task force will need to be created to process the outcome of drone surveillance.
- Procedural efficiency. Increasing the efficiency of the asylum application process requires hiring considerably more individuals to work on the evaluation of such applications. Specialised staff, who can help with aspects holding up the evaluation of applications should also be recruited, including interpreters (particularly female interpreters for female applicants).
- Treaties for repatriation. Escalating the issue of repatriation at the EU level can pressure countries of origin to conclude treaties for the repatriation of individuals who are not granted asylum or are otherwise not entitled to reside in Cyprus. Such treaties will establish mechanisms for repatriations in compliance with international law.
Is there a pioneering project your presidency would implement?
A flagship project will be the creation of community solar parks that will cover 100 per cent of the electricity we consume on a national level. Community solar parks will drastically reduce the price of the electric kilowatt-hour, delivering significant savings and financial benefits for households, businesses, agriculture and the labour market. They will open up new implementations in electric public transport and energy storage. At the same time, carbon emissions will be reduced and we will meet our climate change targets.
Gesy has been under pressure, plagued by overspending, staff strikes, complaints by patients. Can things be made better?
We aim to perfect the general health system, through the following policies:
- improve the working conditions of doctors, through the autonomy of public hospitals and cooperation between doctors from the public and private sectors
- establish a university hospital (Cyprus is the only EU member state without one) to provide clinical education and training and encourage the repatriation of medical professional of the diaspora
- deploy an integrated system of universal health coverage with efficient financing mechanisms and public-private partnerships
- implement the electronic patient record that is always up to date, facilitating the exchange of information between health professionals
- link the provision of medical services with research and excellence by operating university clinics and hospitals to develop the country’s health system
- establish mental health as a public health issue
- introduce qualitative criteria in the remuneration of personal and specialist doctors to encourage the provision of quality care
Housing is becoming unaffordable. What can be done to help people for whom housing is a big problem?
Our priority will be to:
- implement a special housing plan for new households based on income and asset criteria
- introduce additional subsidies for housing internally displaced families
- speed up procedures for issuing town planning and building permits
- implement a plan for student housing.
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. Do you believe this unfairness should be addressed?
We aim to level private sector pension prospects to those of the public sector. We will achieve this by implementing the following plan:
- the state will contribute to a provident fund voluntarily established by each private sector employer for its employees
- contributions will be made to a provident fund to which the employer will contribute and which will be registered with the relevant supervisory authority
- employees covered will exclude the banking sector, public and wider public sector employees who will be covered by other more favourable pension benefits
- the state contribution rate will be scaled to support people on low incomes
- when an employee moves on to a new employment, the state contributions credited to this employee in the previous employer’s provident fund will be transferred to the new employer’s fund
- where state contributions are withdrawn prior to retirement, these will be fully taxed
- the provident funds will not be able to provide loans.
Will you follow the practice of seeking the archbishop’s approval for the person who will be appointed education minister?
There are no grounds on which any religious leader should be consulted for the appointment of a minister in the exercise of the elected president’s constitutional rights.
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?
We would apply complete equality for the LGBTI+ community by implementing the following:
- recognise that a civil marriage or civil partnership between two people of either sex confers the same rights in terms of property, inheritance and successors as those enjoyed by heterosexual married couples
- allow joint adoption for same-sex couples who meet all the requirements applicable to heterosexual couples, without sexual preference or identity alone being a criterion
- If one of the partners has a biological or adopted child, co-custody will be allowed by the partner of the parent
- extend the ability to benefit from medically assisted reproduction procedures to same-sex couples
- legally recognise the existence of more than two genders and promote an amendment to official documents to allow for the possibility of declaring transgender or other gender identity.
Would you support the legalisation of marijuana?
Evidence shows that the prohibition of cannabis has no effect on use rates in developed countries. On the contrary, there is evidence to suggest that prohibition policies may cause harm, by funnelling money into the illegal market for cannabis and nurturing criminal activity, marginalisation and the creation of barriers to treatment.
We are therefore in favour of legalising cannabis for recreational use, subject to strict conditions. The main condition would be the establishment of a public authority that will regulate cannabis production and trading, including the evaluation and granting of licences. The authority itself will be funded by a tax imposed on cannabis sales. A zero-tolerance to cannabis-impaired driving will be introduced with strict enforcement.