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President and auditor-general call for transparency, accountability in politics (Updated)

ΠτΔ – Παγκύπριο Συνέδριο Ένωσης Κο
File photo: President Nikos Christodoulides

By Gina Agapiou and Tom Cleaver

More remains to be done towards transparency and restoring the public’s confidence in the institutions such as justice, President Nikos Christodoulides said on Friday morning addressing the 4th Cyprus Forum in Nicosia.

The theme of this year’s forum is transparency, and the president reaffirmed the government’s dedication to this critical issue, which he said is linked to corruption.

He described the demand for transparency in public life as “a timeless and fair expectation on the part of society.”

There is a prevailing perception in society that those involved in public life either contribute to or fail to prevent corruption in the country, the president declared.

“No matter how many laws and regulations we adopt, no matter how many decisions we take, if we do not overturn this perception of society, we will certainly not have achieved our goal,” the president said.

Reflecting on historical data from Eurobarometer over the past 15-20 years, the president noted that the justice system in Cyprus was once beyond reproach and enjoyed high public trust. However, recent years have seen a decline in trust and increasing doubts about the integrity of the justice system.

He said the greatest risk and challenge they face is that transparency can erode the trust of citizens and the broader society in institutions and the state. This can breed suspicion, scepticism, and distance residents from electoral processes and political life.

Among the initiatives aimed at promoting transparency and combating corruption, Christodoulides highlighted the establishment of an internal audit unit within the presidency. This initiative received favourable mention in the recent evaluation report by the GRECO commission, which offered valuable recommendations for preventing corruption and promoting integrity.

He expressed his strong belief that implementing these recommendations would align Cyprus with international best practices and elevate the country’s reputation.

The president also discussed the introduction of open selection processes based on merit for the appointment of the boards of legal entities of public law, popularly known as semi-governmental organisations. These processes will be overseen by the newly established Consultative Council and ensure that decisions translate into actions.

“The establishment and operation of the Secretariat for Coordination and Support of the Government’s work, through its purely supportive role, can contribute significantly to this. Its basic mission is to facilitate synergies and contribute to the promotion of the necessary reforms and actions envisaged in the Governance Programme, always in full cooperation with the relevant ministries/departments that are also responsible for implementation”, he said.

Moreover, he announced the forthcoming adoption of a comprehensive Code of Ethics for government members. This code will serve as a roadmap that every member of the government must follow throughout their term, accompanied by a robust monitoring and enforcement system.

The issuance and application of this Code of Ethics will not only fulfil a specific action in the Governance Program but will also directly address the special recommendation from the GRECO commission, as emerged in its fifth-round evaluation.

President Christodoulides assured the public that the government’s political will to drive these changes is unwavering.

He commended the Cyprus Forum for successfully establishing itself as a vital institution for fostering dialogue and exchange of ideas among diverse personalities with varying perspectives. The Forum’s role in promoting pluralism and discussions on reforming policies for the benefit of the country was recognised and appreciated, he noted.

Also speaking at the forum was Auditor-General Odysseas Michaelides, who used the platform to take aim at corruption in politics.

He said the “impunity of politicians” is violating the principle of equality before the law in Cyprus and Greece and added “a lot needs to be done to change this perception.”

“So long as accountability is reduced and often completely absent, and so long as corruption thrives, democracy is at risk,” he said.

To this end, he called on Cyprus’ political leadership to “lead by example”, saying governments need to “develop effective strategies to manage fraud risk by looking at both fraud prevention and detection.”

He said the role of the audit service is to “promote accountability and transparency”, and that the service “plays a crucial role in the fight against corruption, even if preventing and exposing corruption is not [the audit service’s] responsibility.”

Audit services, both in Cyprus and elsewhere, “should be strictly politically neutral, maintain their standards, and not allow for mistakes,” he said.

He added that “a lot needs to be done” to change the perception that politicians are above the law.

Michaelides was sharing the stage with US ambassador to Cyprus Julie Fisher, who said it is “the obligation of every government to preserve democracy.”

She also quoted former US president Ronald Reagan, who said “it is the duty of every generation to fight for democracy, because democracy is only a generation away from extinction.”

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