Radical reform or business as usual: political scene in wild west Paphos.
AS A Pegeia municipal councillor for eight years, I have often referred to this part of Cyprus as the ''wild west''. I'm delighted to see its collapse upon itself with revelations of corruption in Paphos of such magnitude, rather like a Greek tragi-comedy. This is culturally fitting, with the Ancient Greeks having so well-identified many human failings such as hubris and nemesis (pride before the fall) and Heracles' task of cleaning the Augean stables (particularly appropriate given that sewerage has been the main focus of the corruption scandals). One of my favourites is Diogenes the Cynic, criticising social values and corrupt institutions, carrying his lantern in search of an honest man.
That search is now on in Paphos, with an eagerly awaited election for a new mayor on January 11. Polls predict the lowest abstention rate in years. Many hope that another trend might be reinforced too -- loss of support for the big political parties that are widely held responsible for the Paphos sleaze (and other problems that plague Cyprus).
A record number of eight candidates are standing for election. From the first hint of an approaching election, the big political parties began their manoeuvring to manipulate candidate choice. While frantically trying to distance themselves (and escape responsibility) from the scandals, they still desperately cling to their failed 'business as usual' mentality. Not surprisingly, the egos of the political establishment were unable to agree on a common candidate. One candidate is even an insider from the same political party as the disgraced former mayor and has the support of three major political parties, spanning the far left to right spectrum of political views. This scenario reveals much about how little things have changed as far as the ruling autocrats are concerned. Let's hope they are living in a daydream and that the nightmare they have created in Cyprus will end with the Paphos electorate abandoning its slavish adherence to party diktats. This conditioning and (mis)behaviour has led the country to bankruptcy, both economically and ethically.
Just a few bad apples?
It must be clear to most sane residents of this once-sacred paradise island that the grand scale of corruption is the result of the entrenched mafia-style rule by the big political parties. This is not just a few bad apples here and there, but an entire orchard: a kleptocracy rotten to the core.
A tame, cowed electorate has been conned into supporting this system in the false belief that they benefit too. A vast majority of voters seem to be satisfied with the small slops reluctantly shared by the pigs at the trough. Given the long history of Cyprus, which has suffered deeply from occupation after occupation, one must consider the possibility that a "serf" mentality has become embedded here. The occupation of modern Cyprus by the big political parties is just the latest in a long chronicle of suppression and exploitation. It is time for this to end.
Cyprus desperately needs radical changes if it is ever to evolve into a 21st century state capable of dealing with the unprecedented challenges looming ahead in the near future. Let's remember that radical means to grasp things at the root. Let's hope the voters of Paphos have the courage to break free from the stranglehold of the big political parties and vote for deep structural reform. If it happens in Paphos, it could roll like a tsunami across the island.
For those readers who have failed to register to vote, I can only strongly urge that you do so -- and soon. While the next municipal elections are scheduled for less than two years from now, there could be a by-election at any time in your town or village in the not unlikely event of Paphos-style revelations. That's how we got started in Pegeia, with a snap by-election in 2005 when the previous mayor was forced to resign, supposedly on health grounds. Since the Paphos scandals emerged, I've even heard Cypriots joking that in Pegeia we will need a bus to take the corrupt ones to jail. Let's hope the auditor general's threats to widen the investigations across Cyprus will come to fruition.
I have, however, witnessed some small changes which give a hint of hope. Since the Troika imposed tighter controls, Pegeia council has been more careful when it comes to turning the usual blind eye to illegalities by friends and families. It's been gratifying to hear the mayor at council meetings declaring that he isn't prepared to go to jail over violations. That's definitely something new.
Concerning the required public service reforms ahead, I'm counting on external pressure to achieve this. What I've seen so far about the overhaul of local authorities leads me to conclude that Pegeia municipality is still living in cloud cuckooland, believing that the status quo can continue with few substantial changes. One example is the famous 14th salary for employees on which we've had some heated discussions on the council this past year. Pegeia council approved the ''Easter tip" last year as we were informed that it was in the union contract and the budget. Only one month ago, it was like pulling teeth to get information about whether this was in the 2015 budget. Not surprisingly, it's there and the mayor continues stalling discussions on the renewal of the contract which still include the 14th salary. So much for radical change, but I'm looking forward to the council meeting when this will be voted upon, at which time I will call for all councillors with close relatives who are employees to absent themselves from voting, as required by law. I'll probably be the only one left, creating yet another comical situation.
Ending on this light-hearted note, one thing that has kept me going in politics is my endless amusement at the antics in the Banana Republic. A phrase that constantly springs to mind is that "you just couldn't make this up". The sheer audacity and depth of the Paphos scandals revealed so far appear to confirm this view of the realities of political life in the wild west.
Linda Leblanc, Pegeia Councillor, Coalition of Independents and Green Party
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