The House of Representatives is set to vote, on 9 December 2021, on a bill – which has been pending for years – to establish an Independent Anti-Corruption Authority. The UN have designated this date as International Anti- Corruption Day. The name of the law, therefore, should not be mere words, it should reflect the spirit and the essence of its contents. The Authority must be independent and have all the characteristics to certify this.
I believe that, in the effort to set up this new Authority, it is important to address two issues in a different way to that in the past: (a) the independence of the Authority, in relation to the executive and any other political authority and (b) its effectiveness to investigate cases.
The first concerns the way the Commissioner for Transparency, who will head the Authority, is appointed. I support an “Honest State” which appoints persons, at regulatory and supervisory institutions, who enjoy broad acceptance, have a proven track record and are impartial. Appointments made by the President, without the existence of checks and balances on the pretext of “the law of necessity” must come to an end.
Extensive experience has been gained over the years internationally on how to tackle corruption.
Every new institution, including existing ones, can adopt the suggested framework which incorporates supervision mechanisms and checks and balances, as these are implemented in the developed world. “Exclusive” distorted privileges must become a thing of the past. I share among other things, the well corroborated position of the Cyprus Bar Association to have a Consultative Council prepare a list of candidates for the President to decide. This method must apply to the Commissioner for Transparency as well.
The second issue relates to the competencies of the Independent Anti-Corruption Authority. Experience from independent commissions, set up to investigate scandals, shows us the way ahead. We need to identify where they went wrong and why their reports remain on the back burner. This Authority has to be given full competencies for criminal investigation which will be conducted by its own personnel, as criminal investigators. The Authority will, therefore, be able to submit a full criminal file which the Attorney General can present in court. There is no need for any other subordination of the Authority to the Attorney General’s Office.
The House has the authority to proceed in a considered manner and with a majority decision which will lead to progress and effective transparency. There is one key question that needs to be answered: are we going to turn the page as far as corruption is concerned or are we going to continue with the lack of measures, the empty promises and the absence of principles? All of the above lead to ineffectiveness.
According to all measures, people believe that corruption is a disgrace to the society at large and makes people lose their trust in institutions and political parties. The Presidency has reached rock bottom in the way it is handling corruption. In addition, corruption also touched the House of Representatives (House) when its former president, an MP, and the second highest ranking citizen of the Republic, starred in the Al Jazeera video. The descent of our country in the corruption indicators has been recorded by all reliable international organisations. Cypriot citizens have a right to and deserve a country where transparency will have the first word.
The process in front of the House must be such as to send a clear message to Brussels. Real change and an end to corruption, no more procrastination. For the past three years, Cyprus has been criticized internationally for the practices it applies with regard to the issuing of golden passports on a grand scale. Two cases are pending before the EU Court in Luxembourg against Cyprus.
The revelations about corruption and the violation of fundamental principles of impartiality have taken on a snowball effect. The Pandora Papers and the sale of European passports are a cause of concern at EU institutions.
The European Parliament, by an overwhelming majority, has asked the competent Authorities of member states to begin in depth investigations into the activities and the involvement of presidents and prime ministers in the above-mentioned cases.
The House can pass legislation in a way that will convince society that it actually wants to contribute decisively in order to put an end to corruption and avoid instances of conflict of interest. By doing this, it will send a clear message that Cyprus is regaining its integrity and credibility.
Cyprus can change.
With an Honest State and independent Authorities which serve transparency, and the strengthening of public life as well as rules which, at long last, will have to be actually observed.
3 December 2021