The Cyprus Mail continues its series of articles with the main presidential candidates. Today, we pose questions to Akel-backed Andreas Mavroyiannis
Which do you think are the three main issues at stake in this presidential election?
The liberation and reunification of the country or the closure of the Cyprus problem with partition; tackling the high prices that affect the economy and society; cleaning up and consolidation after a decade that has plunged the country into scandals and corruption.
The standard of living of most people has been affected negatively by the rising prices. Do you have specific plans for helping people deal with the rising cost of living?
Together with my colleagues, we have moved forward to develop concrete, realistic and costed proposals to support the majority of society. We have already announced our plan for the universal installation of photovoltaics in residential units, public buildings, small and medium-sized enterprises, municipalities and communities, subsidising up to 100 per cent of the cost of installing photovoltaics for low-income groups and a proportion of the rest for residential units. Other measures include the reintroduction of the reduction of VAT on electricity from 19 per cent to 9 per cent, the abolition of double taxation on fuel and the taxation of the unexpected excessive profits of companies operating in the energy sector. These are, of course, a part of our policy, in addition to strengthening social policy and safeguarding labour rights and supporting workers’ incomes.
The standing of the country abroad has been tarnished by the issuing of golden passports, which has also landed us in trouble with Brussels. We have also been at the centre of European Parliament investigations regarding illegal surveillance software. How do you plan to improve our country’s image abroad?
It is true that our country has been tarnished in the last decade by a host of scandals, including that of the citizenship scheme and that of surveillance. These are truly sad stories that have an impact on the Cypriot economy as well. It will take a huge effort to restore our image, that is, to clear the name of Cyprus. This means that we will have to take brave decisions to clean up the system and to punish those who were involved in these scandals. It also means strengthening the institutional and legislative framework for dealing with corruption.
But to be honest, no law and no measure will ever be enough if the key positions are occupied by people who cannot live up to the demands of the job. It all starts with the ethics and the will of each person, first and foremost the president, who must honour the institution he represents by personal example, both his and that of his associates. This is the bet for us. That we, myself and my associates, are the best example of ethical behaviour and honesty.
Can you give us three practical measures you would take to deal with the migration problem?
Firstly, strengthening the Asylum Service to process asylum applications quickly in an efficient and fair way that is in line with international and European conventions and directives, so that applications are processed within six months as required by law and not pending for years as is currently the case.
Secondly, the establishment of a procedure for sorting applications between those that are manifestly unfounded and those that are manifestly justified, so that they can be examined more quickly and efficiently.
Thirdly, linking the examination of applications to a consistent and efficient voluntary return procedure, as well as the conclusion by the Republic of Cyprus of bilateral readmission agreements with third countries.
At the same time, we will vigorously promote the position of the Republic of Cyprus for the adoption of a binding European policy for the equal distribution of asylum seekers among Member States in accordance with their capabilities.
Is there a pioneering project your presidency would implement?
The redesign of education, which I sincerely believe is a social necessity. Our vision is an innovative education system, with sustainability at its core, that will not only inspire our children to discover knowledge through an integrated “educational ecosystem”, which will transform classrooms into small laboratories interconnected with life itself, but which will also support them in their efforts to become well-rounded human beings, active and democratic citizens with an appetite and culture of creativity, with knowledge and skills for learning and living, leading as a matter of course to social justice. The means that will lead us to achieve our goals are scientifically based and are detailed in our programme.
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 social conquest for our country. We want to protect the character of this conquest and to strengthen and develop the quality of this system. Firstly, by essentially supporting public hospitals and then by creating strict control mechanisms, with the aim of eliminating malpractice, exploitation and abuse, but also by creating control mechanisms for the level of health care provided with measurable indicators.
Housing is becoming unaffordable in parts of the country. What can be done to help people for whom housing is a big problem?
The first is to re-evaluate the effectiveness and efficiency of all housing projects. Our goal is to increase the supply of affordable housing units for moderate and low-income households and to make sufficient properties available for Social Housing. We have already developed social housing programmes as well as an ambitious plan for the utilisation of unused state properties and the utilisation of local government properties in the context of social housing and energy upgrading projects. To this end, we are promoting the implementation of a Unified Housing Policy Body which will be responsible for the monitoring and implementation of all projects.
There is great inequality between workers of the private and public sectors – in terms of pay, pensions, job security, work conditions – which undermines social cohesion that you value. Do you believe this unfairness should be addressed?
For society to move forward, society as a whole must move forward. And we cannot move forward when those who produce do not enjoy the dividend which they are entitled to. That is why we have already announced that in the first hundred days of our administration, we will begin consultations to ensure that CoLA is fully paid to low-wage earners and generalised to gradually cover all workers, with priority given to workers covered by the minimum wage decree. We will also proceed with an amendment to the minimum wage decree to take into account hours of work and to adjust for inflation, and we will also have consultations on how remuneration, overtime and holidays are paid.
Will you follow the practice of seeking the archbishop’s approval for the person who will be appointed education minister?
I sincerely believe that Cyprus needs to turn the page and this, among other things, means separating the state from the Church. Of course, the Church has a very important social role to play, uniting the faithful, not with a political, factional discourse, but with a discourse of love and solidarity.
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?
For us, respect for human rights is a sacred and non-negotiable concept. Every person living in this country should be accorded the same respect and feel that the State is his or her helper and protector in the exercise and enjoyment of his or her basic rights. In this context, we consider it necessary to rationalise the formalisation of family relationships of same-sex couples. The enshrinement of civil marriage between same-sex persons is a necessary precondition for this, as is the recognition of homosexuality through legislation covering procreation and in vitro fertilisation.
Would you support the legalisation of marijuana?
I think the wisest thing would be to see what the results have been in countries where marijuana has been legalised, what the impact has been on society and on the intensity of the use of such substances, and to take decisions accordingly, always in consultation with the experts and the competent bodies.