Our View -- Wanted: honest officials to stop back-hander culture.
THE investigating officer requesting the issuing of remand orders at Paphos district court, against eight suspects in connection with cases of bribery relating to the operation of waste management plants in Paphos and Larnaca, gave a detailed account of how the taxpayer was funding the corruption. In a nutshell, the contractor submitted grossly inflated invoices for services provided and officials would approve them because they would be rewarded; the taxpayer was funding the corruption.
We know that nobody has been charged in connection with these crimes yet and that the information provided by police in court was based on testimony from one of the suspects -- the manager of the contractor who was making the pay-offs and will probably be used as a prosecution witness -- but the numbers do not lie. All the suspects might be acquitted, if they are eventually charged, but nobody could dispute that the waste management contractor was grossly overcharging the Paphos and Larnaca municipal authorities by claiming it was processing much bigger volumes of waste.
The case merely confirms the back-hander culture that plagues the public sector. Most contracts negotiated by the state, either for the provision of services or the purchase of goods, have the back-hander/commission priced into them, because paying off public employees and politicians has become standard practice. The taxpayer is paying inflated prices for everything, because almost for every contract signed by the state or local authority money has to be paid to corrupt officials. A former finance minister used to say that Cyprus Airways would never be competitive because, apart from the extortionate wages it was paying, all big purchases it made were overpriced.
The back-hander culture also affects the private sector pushing up prices for everything. For instance, a project manager of a construction will expect commissions for every job he gives out to sub-contractors, passing the cost onto the customer; a doctor who refers a patient to a specific lab for tests or a private MRI clinic will receive a commission; a lawyer will also be paid a finder's fee for a wealthy client he refers to a bank. This is why we pay much higher prices for things than is justified by the size and performance of the economy. All prices are inflated to fund the endemic corruption and the back-hander culture.
Whether it would ever be eliminated is a big question, but the Anastasiades government has made some positive steps. Officials are in prison for the Dromolaxia scandal and the Paphos Sewerage scams. Now, officials are being investigated in connection with irregular dealings at the waste management plants, because one honest official, the Paphos mayor, took a close look at the accounts and found suspicious dealings. There are probably countless similarly dubious contracts at ministries and municipalities, obliging us to pay over the odds for services, but we need more honest officials to start taking a closer look.
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