In the Cyprus of 2022, corruption has permeated all levels of our society. The extent of the problem needs to be ascertained first. Then, the diagnosis of its causes. Finally, but most importantly, the specific proposals to combat it.
...there is an interdependence between independent officials and the authority they have to control. This interdependence also contributes to the impunity observed for corruption-related offenses.
Corruption during the ten-year rule of Anastasiades reached unprecedented levels. A primary example is the mismanagement of the naturalization program, the "golden" passports. In the framework of the Cyprus Investment Program (CIP), the Council of Ministers approved the naturalization of foreign nationals, the majority of whom (according to Nikolato's opinion) did not meet the criteria provided by the law. Along the way, it appeared that various Ministers - as well as the President of the Republic himself - had connections with law firms or other offices that benefited from the naturalizations they approved. These acts constitute an unprecedented institutional "conflict of interest".
The mismanagement of the KEP also contributed to the boom in real estate prices. As a result, the acquisition of the first home is unattainable for young people who are trying to get back on their feet financially. At the same time, the absence of mechanisms to fight corruption has degraded our country as an investment destination and has significantly reduced the prospect for healthy economic development.
Corruption stems from:
(1) Lack of transparency.
(2) The absence of rules preventing the appointment of persons with a conflict of interest to key positions.
(3) The inability of independent institutions to exercise their authority with the necessary independent control, vis-à-vis the executive power.
Due to the specificity of the Cypriot Constitution and the absence of cross-community control since 1964, the institutional framework does not provide the necessary constitutional checks and balances to ensure the proper functioning of the state. Independent institutions (such as the Attorney General or the Auditor General) have an obligation to exercise control over the respective government department so that it does not deviate. At the same time, under the Constitution, these independent officials are appointed by the President, which creates (at least ostensibly) incentives to appoint "trustees" to bypass the Constitution's safeguards.
Especially the present administration has strengthened the mistrust towards the institutions, having appointed two of its former Ministers to the positions of General and Assistant Attorney General. Citizens raise reasonable questions about whether these individuals could impartially investigate acts of the government in which they participated.
The result is that there is an interdependence between independent officials and the authority they have to control. This interdependence also contributes to the impunity observed for corruption-related offenses – especially when political figures are involved – since the Attorney General is both the government's legal advisor and the head of the prosecuting Authority.
The creation of an Anti-Corruption Authority and the appointment of the Transparency Commissioner following the submission of a list of persons by an Advisory Council is an important positive step. However, the new institution has weaknesses and its operating regulations have not yet been approved.
To ensure the proper functioning of the state and to tame the beast of corruption, we must break the interdependence between independent institutions and the executive. We must create conditions of transparency and establish regulations that can prevent corruption phenomena.
In this direction, I submit five proposals to organize an "Honest State" (more here https://www.achilleas.eu/timio-kratos/):
(1) The establishment of political practice by the President to consult with the Parliament regarding the appointments of the independent officials defined by the Constitution. The Parliament with a process of public hearings (as in the European Parliament or the Senate in the USA) to examine the persons proposed by the President. In this way, he will be able to exert pressure on the appointment, by the President of the Republic, of people with wide acceptance and with the appropriate qualifications. Over time, this will be established as a constitutional convention.
(2) For the appointments of independent authorities created by law or due to the obligations arising from the accession of Cyprus to the EU, the appointment procedure should be legislated on the model of the appointment of the Ombudsperson.
(3) This procedure should also be applied in the case of the Chairmen of the Boards of Directors of Semi-State Organizations with relevant amendments to the law that governs them. Until this is done, and upon the initiative of the President, the advisory hearing process described in (1) above should be implemented immediately.
(4) The separation of the advisory and prosecuting responsibilities of the Attorney General with the creation of another institution to be the legal advisor of the executive power. In this way, the Attorney General will be able to function as a prosecuting Authority, without any hindrance due to his parallel role as the legal advisor of the Republic. This separation has been successfully implemented in other Commonwealth states.
(5) Finally, the creation of an effective and institutionalized "Pothen Esches" according to the standards of the Pissarides - Panagiotidis - Syrimi proposal. Citizens have the right to know the annual financial situation of elected officials and close relatives, the relevant changes and their explanations.
Corruption is one of the main problems plaguing Cypriot society. The independence of the institutions is a basic condition for its suppression. A radical change in the way these institutions are staffed is necessary to achieve this if we seek an "Honest State". But until the relevant amendments to the laws are made, the President can (and must) now implement the consultative process of public hearings in Parliament.
Cyprus deserves better!
*Mr. Achilleas Dimitriadis is a candidate for the Presidency of the Republic
[This op-ed was translated from its Greek original]