A few days before departing from the finance ministry, Constantinos Petrides, to his credit, spoke out against the government’s proposed compensatory measures for landowners who would be affected by the provisions of Akamas regional plan. He had nothing personal to gain, but his sense of responsibility obliged him to alert people to the shoddiness of the proposed compensatory measures, for which there had been no cost assessment.
The failure to cost the measures “raises serious risks because potentially adopting them burdens public finances in a way that would be difficult to cover,” said Petrides at the end of last week. This was the explanation for the ludicrous decision of the Anastasiades government to make public the Akamas plan, “with a six-month suspension in the implementation of its provisions, until September 1, 2023,” so as to further explore the “economic and social aspects of the plan.”
In plain language, the next government would have to decide the way landowners would be compensated for not being able to develop their land. And this was because Petrides refused to give his consent to the compensatory measures, which he said were “tabled a few days before the government’s departure as an attempt to counter opposition (to the plan), putting at risk the sustainability and macroeconomic stability of the economy.”
The compensation proposals drafted by the agriculture ministry, were deemed a risk to public finances, by the finance minister and he did the right thing in refusing to sign off on them. That the agriculture ministry could have come up with proposals for compensating landowners without costing them was astonishing, but also an indication of the tendency of politicians to waste the taxpayer’s money – going as far as putting public finances at risk – in order to minimise the political cost of a decision. In the case of the Akamas plan, public funds were to be used generously to buy the acquiescence of the affected landowners.
Apart from the viability of the compensation proposals, there was also a legal issue according to Petrides – that of equal treatment. People with land in white zones or other Natura sites had not been compensated and would be perfectly justified to take the state to court seeking equal treatment, not to mention refugees with properties in the north who were never compensated. Akamas landowners, in contrast, would not lose their properties, only be stopped from developing it.
Quite clearly, the implications of the compensatory measures – economic, legal, political – were not thought through by the agriculture ministry, as the priority was to minimise the reaction of the affected parties. It is now up to the new government to consider the issue of compensation and hopefully it would give the matter the thought it deserves before finalising any decision.