Resistance to reforms and changes promoted comes from the effort to protect specific interests but the government will not succumb to such pressures, Justice Minister Anna Koukkides Procopiou said on Sunday.
The mission of all the ministers of Christodoulides’ government is to improve the quality of life of the average citizen and their sense of security, Procopiou said in a lengthy multi-topic interview to the Cyprus News Agency.
“That is my position as minister, that we must always be guided by the interest of the many and not the interest of the few…Our position is to resist the pressures,” she noted, explaining that it is the right of everyone in a democratic state to express their opinion.
“Our job as the justice ministry is to keep the balance, to listen to all sides…and be prepared to bear the political cost if some people disagree or for some people their interests are affected.”
During the interview, the minister referred to several hot-topic issues such as corruption, cyber crimes and attacks on state agencies as well as prison and police understaffing and sports violence.
Cyprus, Procopiou said, has recorded an increase in serious offences and that more focus should be given to prevention.
“We see it reflected in the prison population. That is, we are seeing that the numbers of long-term convicts for serious offenders are growing. There is an increasing trend,” she said. This includes crimes related to drug use, possession and trafficking but also burglaries, on the rise across EU member states.
She said domestic violence is often linked to drugs and noted that authorities examine such incidents almost on a daily basis. Furthermore, many traffic accidents, at times fatal, are caused when a driver is under the influence of substances, the minister said, noting there is still a large proportion of drivers driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
As regard human trafficking, she highlighted that a team of 12 persons are working to combat it and urged anyone who might have information to contact the competent authorities.
Organised crime is a phenomenon of concern to the entire European Union, Procopiou said, adding that this was a main topic in the two council of ministers’ meetings she attended so far.
Such illegal activities result in multi-million or even billions thus a lot of power ends up in the hands of criminals. This illegal group of people, through corruption manage to get involved in the political life of the state in a way that secures their interests in public life, the minister said.
Any corruption issues “must be investigated effectively and expeditiously and in the right way exactly that no shadows should be left in the mind of any citizen as to how the government chooses to act,” she said, citing as an example the way government handled the sanctions.
Concerning cybercrime after several local state agencies recorded cyber-attacks, the minister said this was another topic of concern in the EU where all 27 member states are assessing how to deal with it together.
The minister said one way is for governments to employ experts.
“These people who are involved in these kinds of offences are one step ahead of the state agencies. They are more educated sometimes, they find ways to escape from the framework of the law, because there is also a problem with the absence of a legislative framework sometimes.
“The tools that we have as state institutions are less available to us than the new methods that are invented…there is always someone who knows more than us about a subject,” she said.
Fraudsters may impersonate someone else, or somehow hack people’s personal email or bank accounts or ask for large sums of money in exchange of securing personal data.
Hence, apart from the special cyber security police department, it will be beneficial to find a specialist and work with them, Procopiou noted.
Regarding prison staffing, the minister said the demands of the prison guards’ group for a change in the way examinations are conducted have been met, while some changes will be made to the prison infrastructure to address overcrowding using European funds.
On police understaffing, Procopiou said efforts are continuously being made to hire new personnel, but there is a process for the hiring of new officers.
Meanwhile, to increase the sense of security, she said people in charge of neighbourhood watch will now also be acting as fire watch guards by collaborating with the fire service and police when needed.
She added that the traffic cameras have contributed to limit traffic offences in specific areas, despite persistent complaints by the public that there is an attempt to “trap” them.
The minister also referred to the increased incidents of sports violence and the recent signing of a memorandum of understanding promoting the collaboration of relevant stakeholders to tackle violence in stadiums.
She said discussions are now underway with sports fans groups.
“We have talked to some and we will try to communicate and engage in dialogue with everyone,” she said without going on details.