articles | 18 August 2014

Cyprus key pillar of stability and security, says Defence Minister

Defence Minister Christoforos Fokaides notes that the geopolitical instability in the region as a whole in combination with Cyprus' energy prospects upgrade its role and make it a strategic partner for the US.

Sweeping changes are in progress in the Ministry of Defence and the National Guard toensure its efficiency and to combat phenomena such as draft avoidance and nepotism, Minister of Defence Christoforos Fokaides tells CNA in an interview.

In a region, which is literally up in flames, he points out, Cyprus “is recognised as a key pillar of stability and security”.

Its enhanced relationship with the US, however, does not mean that Cyprus downgrades or ignores its strategic relationship with other countries, he assures. In this context he refers to a forthcoming visit he will pay to China, the first of a Cypriot Minister of Defence in many years.

At the same time he refers to Cyprus’ EU membership, noting that it is its greatest achievement since the declaration of the country’s independence. As such, he points out, it constitutes the foundation on the basis of which the Republic’s sovereignty can be defended and on which efforts to reunify the country, divided since the Turkish invasion of 1974, are based.

Replying to a question on the efforts to combat nepotism he says that they are on going and have already started to yield results.

He refers to the recent transfers of permanent staff within the Ministry of Defence for which objective criteria were taken into account. He gives the example of transferring all personnel who had served in departments, which have to do with financial management with no exceptions.

“It is our intention to put this criteria formally in place so that gradually a new culture can be cultivated among the personnel”, he points out. A bill on officers’ promotions, pending for years is now been dusted off and redrafted, he says. The goal will be to reward excellence and to place the right person in the right post, Fokaides stresses.

Fokaides also tells CNA of changes in progress in the National Guard.

Replying to a question about what is being done to combat draft evasion he reveals that next Wednesday an incentives proposal is going to be presented before the Cabinet. The proposal, drafted in cooperation with the Ministry of Education, stipulates that young men in military service will be able to follow Open University courses and later claim the credit during their undergraduate studies.

In Cyprus, all young men who have turned 18 are required to serve in the National Guard before they pursue further studies.

Fokaides also tells of changes under way as regards reservists in the National Guard without whom, as he says, it could not fulfil its role. He hopes that a comprehensive new programme will be ready to be announced in the autumn.

Referring to society’s perception of what goes on, he acknowledges that much needs to be done to persuade people that things are going to be different from now on. For this to take place, he says, everyone’s cooperation is needed; the government’s, political parties, social actors and citizens’ themselves.

Asked to comment on a statement made by former National Guard chief Stylianos Nasis, who referred to people “who at times served their personal or other selfish interests”, Fokaides stresses that this “belongs in the past”.

He makes it clear that in no way will he tolerate any unbecoming behaviour. “We have definitely turned a page”, he points out, adding that in recent visits he has made in National Guard camps he has seen an improvement in people’s sentiment.

Source: Famagusta Gazette

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