Cyprus Mail
Guest ColumnistOpinion

Corruption Cyprus-style

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By Gavin Jones

Ever since I can remember, I’ve been addicted to films and have watched many hundreds – if not thousands. I’ve always been astonished at the way the subject matter so often represents real life and marvel at the skill of the screenwriters to transfer situations from their imaginations to the silver screen. But is it all ‘imagination’? In so many cases, the images are so real that one cannot but speculate that they must have experienced some of what they’ve written themselves. Like Captain Kirk and the crew of the Starship Enterprise in the tv series ‘Star Trek’, we’re forever pushing the boundaries and searching for that final frontier which will see the eradication of corruption while at the same time realising that this goal will always remain elusive.

Corruption is indeed a worldwide scourge. However, one of the excuses regularly trotted out in the Cypriot media and comments’ sections is that the level of corruption elsewhere is the same, if not more, when compared to Cyprus. So what? In my book that’s a non-argument and hardly mitigates sharp practices here.

Corruption has often been graphically represented on the big screen. One of the most iconic scenes takes place in the 1972 film ‘The Godfather’ when Michael Corleone assassinates drug dealer Virgil Sollozzo and police captain McCluskey in a New York restaurant. Before he’s ‘dispatched’ by Michael Corleone, Sollozzo admits that the Corleone family have all the judges and politicians in their pocket, while the presence of a police captain at the table by his side confirmed that he too had corrupt establishment figures under his control.

On the same theme, I recently viewed an enthralling, epic television series entitled ‘Il Cacciatore’ (The Hunter) which featured two Sicilian magistrates pursuing and bringing to trial members of the infamous Corleonesi Mafia clan. The general backdrop was one of corrupt politicians, judges and policemen with whom the two men had to battle, let alone trying to bring to justice key members of the Sicilian Mafia.

In February this year the Cyprus Mail published an article entitled ‘Is corruption embedded in our DNA?’ It tackled this long-standing, emotive subject but I would like to take it to the next stage. Why is it that corruption is deemed to be more ‘acceptable’ in some countries than others and when exposed treated with a metaphorical flick of the wrist as if it’s something of little or no consequence?

My personal view in relation to whether or not corruption is ‘embedded in the Cypriot DNA’ may surprise. It’s no more present in Cyprus than anywhere else but I do admit that it thrives on the island as it’s given sufficient oxygen to do so. I have a certain take as to why corruption exists in Cypriot society and it’s twofold.

Firstly, it’s a closed society where even if not related, everyone knows everyone else. Secondly, there are similarities with Sicily where the Mafia began as a way of life to counter the injustice, real or imagined, of the government of the day. It’s not generally known but the Sicilians were ruled by outsiders such as Saracens, Normans, Germans, Spanish, Austrians. This mirrors Cyprus so it’s been a similar tale where until relatively recently, the indigenous population were also ‘governed’ by outsiders towards whom they would have displayed a certain resentment and belligerency.

To my mind, ignoring laws, pursuing corrupt practices and treating the government with disrespect is ‘a tradition’ which goes back centuries and is not a modern phenomenon. And when I speak of present day ‘government’, those doing the actual governing are imbued with the same mindset as the citizenry and treat the laws that they’re supposed to uphold with equal, if not more, disdain.

Over the years, there have been many examples published in the media of out and out malfeasance perpetrated by those who govern or else are pillars of Cypriot society, the most publicised being the Al Jazeera video sting which captured in glorious Technicolor a former President of the House of Representatives, an M.P. and lawyer being somewhat ‘creative’ when it came to securing someone a golden passport. This case is ongoing in the courts.

One has to ask how the perception and acceptance of corruption can be changed and broken. Firstly, the old saying that ‘The fish rots from the head’ is never more apt than when it comes to combatting corruption. How many times has it been stated that until and unless the Cypriot government, institutions, judiciary and police clean up their act, nothing will change? Countless.

There are one or two lone voices out there doing their best but it’s not enough. A practical sea of change is required and not just platitudes of intent from the presidential palace. Secondly, those caught need to be handed down sentences commensurate with their crimes, instead of the derisory examples with which we’ve become all too familiar. Finally, and most importantly, establishing and encouraging the nation’s moral compass ultimately starts and ends at home and school.

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