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08 December, 2021
 
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Cyprus struggles to regulate lobbying

Unions off the hook as members of parliament weigh transparency against politicking rights

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Debate on a legislation proposal that would regulate lobbying in the Republic of Cyprus will continue next year, when parliamentary elections will be in full swing, after the justice ministry introduced amendments to reconcile transparency rules with realities of politicking on the island.

According to local media, debate on a government-sponsored bill on regulating lobbying in Cyprus has been pushed back until middle of January after the justice ministry introduced a set of amendments on Wednesday during a House legal committee hearing.

The proposed legislation calls for an institutionalized and regulated manner through which any and all contacts with state officials, members of parliament, and local government officials would be reported including financial contributions.

But members of parliament have expressed concern over the scope of the regulations, arguing the current bill could infringe upon their rights as citizens and elected representatives to meet with groups and individuals who advocate for local interests or specific issues.

Zachariou said there were a number of firms in Cyprus attempting to influence political action lawfully, adding the practice is not necessarily a bad thing but has to be regulated

The chairman of the committee, DISY MP Zacharias Zachariou, said House members of the committee made it clear during the hearing that they did not want regulations to affect their established ways of politicking, such as meeting with the “average citizen,” adding that a definition on who are the lobbyists, whom they may represent, and what obligations they may have, all have be made clear in the regulations before transparency laws are voted on.

Zachariou, who spoke on state radio Thursday morning, also said there were a number of offices in Cyprus that fall under the lobbying category, such as accountant and law firms attempting to influence political action lawfully, adding that the practice is not necessarily a bad thing but has to be regulated. 

But the chairman drew the line when it came to private citizens as well as trade unions, saying specifically that labour unions were not lobbying groups and adding that the bill "was too strict."

“There are also unions that are not considered lobbies in any country,” Zachariou said, adding that a team of experts has been tasked to come up with new definitions so that the House could end up voting on the bill by February or March.

Media pundits have pointed out parliamentary elections in the Republic of Cyprus were fast approaching in May 2021, adding that delaying the bill could be adding political pressure as members of the House publicly debate on which groups are lobbying and need to abide by new rules and who will be left out.

While lobbying is not defined anywhere within Cypriot law, the absence of regulations and registers for persons or groups lobbying the Cypriot government have drawn criticism from the European Union, as well as the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) which is tasked with monitoring compliance with the organisation’s anti-corruption standards.

After a negative report on some of Cyprus’ key problem areas on transparency, including financial net worth declarations on assets and liabilities, the government put together a set of rules to prevent corruption as organized and special interests groups lobby politicians and state officials on a number of issues.

But AKEL MP Aristos Damianou says the justice ministry had a lot of time since 2019 to discuss lobbying legislation with stakeholders, adding that discussion on the government bill could not go forward “as is” because it did not present any improvements for the proposal to win wider consensus.

TAGS
Cyprus  |  lobbying  |  politics  |  transparency  |  parliament  |  elections

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