While Cyprus’ legislation says all the right things on paper, the fight against corruption is compromised by institutional flaws, the Council of Europe’s Group of States Against Corruption (Greco) said in a report on Monday.
With a focus on high-ranking officials and police, Greco called on the Cypriot authorities to do more. It highlighted the time is right to develop a devoted anti-corruption policy for all those with top executive functions in government.
“While the legislation has some strong features on paper, its effectiveness is compromised by institutional flaws including the proliferation of committees with little coordination, resources, expertise and authority,” Greco said, adding that Cyprus needs a stronger system of accountability in government to prevent risks of undue influence.
Reacting to the report, government spokesman Konstantinos Letymbiotis said the government has every intention of implementing the recommendations, highlighting that some are already underway as a matter of priority.
Two bills are already in parliament, one to regulate advisors to government officials and another on asset declarations (pothen esches) of politically exposed persons, he added.
Greco issued its evaluation report on preventing corruption and promoting integrity in central governments (top executive functions) and law enforcement agencies.
“The issue of conflicts of interest, including in relation to revolving doors, is a particular challenge in Cyprus, yet its treatment is narrow in scope,” the report said.
Greco also notes that more needs to be done regarding asset disclosure, particularly to strengthen the corresponding supervisory and enforcement mechanisms, while additional steps are also needed in respect of access to information.
As Cyprus has a presidential system, with the president vested with broad executive powers, Greco noted that the country “lacks a system to analyse major corruption risk factors facing top government executives in a strategic manner and subject them to integrity background checks prior to their appointment”.
The report highlighted that while a Charter of Ethics exists, it does not apply to the president, and is “more of a declaration of principles than a fully-fledged system of ethics to abide by that would trigger consequences in cases of violation”.
Greco is “firmly convinced” that the time is right to develop a devoted anti-corruption policy for all persons with top executive functions.
Such a policy would constitute a “strong statement” by the highest ranks of the executive for their unequivocal commitment to promote integrity, condemn corruption and lead by example, the report said.
Regarding the police, Greco called for targeted measures to enhance the objectivity and transparency of decisions on the selection of officers for higher ranks, promotions and transfers, noting that this also applies to the appointment and removal of the chief and the deputy chief of the police.
The report also stressed the need for a holistic overhaul of how complaints against the police are lodged and processed, as well as visibility and accountability as to how they are handled.
“Indeed, the system of public complaints suffers from a lack of structured coordination between the competent authorities and the absence of standardised procedures, with each authority following its own internal processes when dealing with complaints,” the report said.
It said that the framework for police oversight and accountability would benefit from streamlining and clear guidelines and protocols for operation and coordination. Improvements are also needed regarding discipline to better ensure that cases are decided in a timely manner and that misconduct is effectively punished.
It also notes the need to strengthen vetting procedures upon recruitment and at regular intervals, adding that the representation of women in all ranks in the police as part of recruitment and of internal upward career moves should be strengthened.
Greco also pointed out that it is critical that the newly introduced legislation on whistleblowing protection is coupled with appropriate implementation measures effectively enabling police officers to speak up in a safe manner.
Letymbiotis added “as a government we remain committed to implementing policies and reforms that promote transparency and modernise the rule of law”.
This requires cooperation between the executive and legislative powers, along with the anti-corruption authority, he specified.