By Michalis Persianis
The Cyprus Confidential revelations turned out to be a 'petard mouille', a wet firecracker failing to generate the anticipated excitement. This disappointment surpassed the one we experienced when we photographed accountants, politicians, lawyers, and bankers up to their chests while in the nude.
We remain clever, adept lawyers and accountants, skillfully navigating our activities within legal boundaries.
The text resembled other cases that didn't withstand the scrutiny of justice, highlighting an ethical dysfunction, an amoral approach to situations, and a willingness to circumvent the spirit of the law, always within its letter. If these "revelations" go to court, there's no point where justice can be undermined for a conviction. The public may perceive everything as orchestrated, with lawyers and judges supposedly scheming over cigars and Armagnac in closed, walnut-lined rooms on a Wednesday night.
Contrary to conspiracy theories, there are no directed schemes or intrigues, no dirty tricks. The reality is even worse.
Firstly, our name is out, and it keeps coming out. The texts suggest that we excel at what we do but acknowledge that we are scum, "normally and by law."
Secondly, our minds haven't changed. We remain clever, adept lawyers and accountants, skillfully navigating our activities within legal boundaries.
Thirdly, what is legal is what we think is right.
Finally, this is Cyprus. We may shout, express anger, and protest, but in the end, we might just have another demonstration before driving to Philoxenia and informing an MP that our frat boy is joining the Public Service Commission (EDY) the day after tomorrow. Then, we'll likely start screaming and yelling at the TV when it's announced in a few months that the accused have been acquitted.
The point is to stop testing the limits of legitimacy and start testing the limits of morality. And if we can't do that because of the culture, then we have to do it through other processes:
First, we need a single authority on economic practices. Not 'for sanctions', not even for crime, but a supervisory authority with powers. If this sounds extreme, it is: Extreme situations call for an extreme response.
Such an authority would be staffed with representatives from the capital market, the central bank, the police and the finance ministry for on-the-spot coordination. And, why not, with observers or "secondees" from the Bankers' Association, the FSA and the Bar Association. There are many possibilities, including the office of the Financial Commissioner, which is being upgraded and strengthened, or the central bank itself (if a way can be found within the Eurosystem). If we want it, it can be done. After all, we have top lawyers.
Second, let's drop the jurisdictional logic. All of the above have a voice and a role in the fight against crime and disciplinary control, with mixed results. And therefore, none of them has the jurisdiction to take effective action. Behind the legal system that has ruined the name of our country and almost destroyed our economic prospects, the whole approach needs to be modernized. Not with new offices and commissioners who cannot lift a finger and, if our political leadership dares, trample on existing fiefdoms of competence.
The conclusion of Cyprus Confidential is that we are brats. The problem is not our lawlessness, but our arrogance. Concentration of powers will also allow for proactive action, for example by mirroring the sanctions of other jurisdictions, such as the US and UK, and applying strict supervisory conditions. It will also allow the pooling of expertise, technology and analytical capacity under one roof.
This will allow ethical rules to be enforced, without carrots, but with serious sticks. And the law or sanctions can no longer serve as an alibi.
In an economy with a serious balance of payments problem, to the extent that this is one of the two most likely points for the next economic crisis in Cyprus, managing foreign investment and attracting the "good" investors is critical.
The creation of a unified and single authority for financial practices, with supervisory and regulatory powers, is the necessary first step to save our reputation and our economy. But such an authority will help to develop a unified foreign investment policy, which is the next step, with a realistic (if we want it) 18-month horizon.
[This op-ed was translated from its Greek original and may not be the exact translation into English but will convey the message from its author]