Europe's anti-corruption group says Cyprus must hold politicians more accountable amid distrust

AP , Monday 2 Oct 2023

The Council of Europe’s anti-corruption group said Monday that Cyprus needs to hold those at the highest echelons of executive power and law enforcement more accountable to counter an overwhelming public perception of widespread corruption.

A police officer holds a Cyprus flag as two soldiers salute during a ceremony before a military parade marking the 63th anniversary of Cyprus independence from British colonial rule, in divided capital Nicosia, Cyprus, on Sunday, Oct. 1 2023. AP


The Council of Europe’s Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) said in a report that Cypriot laws appear strong on paper but are undercut by institutional flaws including numerous anti-corruption bodies that lack coordination, resources and authority.

According to GRECO, Cyprus needs a stronger system of accountability in government to prevent influence-peddling and to stymie the risk of politicians serving the interests of big business and the wealthy.

Efforts to combat this relationship between government and private interests are “narrow in scope,” it said, adding that more transparency is needed regarding politicians' assets and that people need better access to information.

The group lauds Cyprus for passing new laws last year establishing the Anti-Corruption Authority, which protects whistleblowers and regulates lobbying while devoting more resources to internal auditing units at public institutions.

Even so, GRECO notes there’s no system in place to identify major corruption risks for people in top decision-making positions “in a strategic manner” or to have them undergo integrity background checks before their appointment.

The Charter of Ethics that such appointees must sign and swear on isn’t enough to ensure that anyone who breaks their oath would face serious consequences, it said. Moreover, new lobbying legislation needs additional “targeted guidance” for political appointees on how they should conduct themselves with lobbyists and others, it added.

Cypriots are more distrustful of government than many other Europeans. A European opinion survey last year found that 94% of Cypriots believe corruption is widespread in the country – nearly 30% higher than the European Union average.

That distrust has been fed in recent years by a now-defunct citizenship-for-investment program that raised billions of euros by granting passports to wealthy investors pouring at least 2 million euros ($2.1 million) each into the Cypriot economy.

That program met an ignominious end in 2020 when the government scrapped it amid suggestions that politicians, land developers and lawyers were in cahoots to bend the laws for ineligible applicants.

Trust in the police is also lower in Cyprus than in most other EU member countries. GRECO said there’s no system to assess the integrity force members. It added that the vetting of officers, from their recruitment to throughout their careers, needs to be bolstered.

The group also said decisions on how officers are promoted or transferred need to be more transparent, while more should be done to strengthen the representation of women in all police ranks.

Speaking at an anti-corruption forum last week, Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides acknowledged waning public trust in government and its institutions.

He pledged a series of actions to help beat back that perception over his five-year tenure, including the creation of an internal auditing body for the executive branch, a coordination and support secretariat to oversee the work of individual ministries, and a binding code of ethics.

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