articles | 17 December 2014

Cyprus parliament approves 2015 budget

After a marathon House session, the 2015 government budget was passed, with 29 votes in favour and 26 against.

Ruling DISY’s 20 deputies, former coalition partners DIKO’s eight and EVROKO’s single vote were enough to inch the budget through. Opposition AKEL, EDEK, the Greens and the Citizens’ Alliance voted against it with the exception of the funds allocated for defence, while independent Zacharias Koulias opposed it with the exception of funds allocated for defence, refugees and social welfare.

The vote was preceded by a speech from each deputy, some dominated by reflections on the state of the economy but often veering into topics completely unrelated to the budget – like the Cyprus problem, recently exposed cases of corruption, and alleged collusions between parties.

Predictably, DISY deputies openly supported arguing for the necessity of financial prudence and austerity while opposition deputies blasted the budget’s meagre growth prospects and questioned the government’s intentions.

“A negative impact of economic hardship on the government budget is understandable. What is not understandable is the government’s refusal to create even rudimentary growth prospects, insisting on harsh austerity instead,” charged AKEL’s Aristos Damianou.

“The bitter truth is that we went bankrupt, and if we haven’t realised it then we have a problem,” countered DISY’s Marios Mavrides. “A balanced budget is not an option but a necessity. When a country follows the rule of balancing its budget, it can’t go bankrupt.”

“As wrong as running high fiscal deficits is in boom times, it is equally wrong to cut deficits in slump times. For each percentage point shaved off the deficit, the economy and employment shrink by one point. Not only does austerity solve the problem, it exacerbates it,” argued AKEL’s Pambos Papageorgiou.

“This budget is one of correction, and in order to restore growth the economy must first be corrected. There is a deficit in the 2015 budget – small, but still a deficit – and we need to stay the course of correction,” DISY’s Prodromos Prodromou said.

DIKO is stuck in opposition but with a strong pro-government faction in its ranks was left to shoulder the burden of passing or rejecting the budget – causing a political crisis to go with the economic one – opting to support it while voicing disagreement.

“The 2015 budget is a budget of austerity, without growth prospects. The numbers may prosper, but the citizens remain on the verge of destitution,” said Fytos Constantinou.

In contrast, DIKO’s former leader Marios Garoyian argued in favour and attacked detractors.

“Instead of devaluing the sacrifices made by Cypriots, we should be expressing our gratitude,” he said. “We must all, prudently and pragmatically, contribute to the Cypriot economy’s exit from the abyss it was staring into. We have no other choice, unless we have decided, once again, to commit suicide.”

“The 2015 budget moves in the direction of economic recovery within the commitments we have made to our international creditors – but that does not mean that we should stop trying to improve them through proper negotiation,” said Angelos Votsis, another member of DIKO’s intra-party opposition.

Another popular topic was the issue of punishment for those to blame for the country’s financial meltdown.

“We continue to implement an adjustment programme that requires painful measures, while a handful of businessmen continue to owe billions and don’t repay them, and others are implicated in scandals and a party of billions, with the culprits of the tragedy remain free. They need to be punished,” said DIKO’s Yiorgos Prokopiou.

“We shall not rest until the big scandals – those that led the economy of Cyprus to destruction – are exposed,” said DISY’s Andreas Kyprianou. “After rescuing the banks, the state should legislate their obligation to shoulder some of the cost.”

Nicos Tornaritis, also of the ruling party, went a step further. “The era of impunity is over,” he said. “Those responsible, irrespective of party, must be tried and punished, and their property seized.”
Possibly the single largest reform project Cyprus has ever undertaken, the National Health Scheme (NHS) was also heavily featured.

“There is no room for putting off implementation of the NHS anymore,” AKEL’s Stella Mishaouli said, before expressing her party’s reservations. “Turning public healthcare facilities into semi-state organisations concerns us inasmuch as they may end up like today’s semi-states – CyTA, EAC, the Ports Authority – which are being privatised.”

“The NHS is a project that has been discussed for decades, but is now a Troika requirement,” said DISY’s Stella Kyriakidou. “The huge social imbalances in healthcare must be remedied through a system offering universal and equal coverage.”

Lofty ideals – and some degree of wishful thinking – were also voiced.

“Our country needs a real leader,” said DIKO’s Athina Kyriakidou. “A leader with vision. A leader to lead and blaze trails. My leader can tell me how we can solve our national problem, and not just repeat what we won’t accept. We need positions, not denial.”

Ditto DISY’s Sotiris Sampson: “this is not the time to seek partisan gains. It is not the time to promote petty politics. It is not the time to point fingers. It is the time for togetherness, collective responsibility, and unity.”

AKEL’s Irene Charalambidou launched a personal attack on President Nicos Anastasiades, making reference to allegations that his daughter’s in-laws transferred millions out of Cyprus days before bank deposits were seized on insider information, and that his law firm – now run by his daughters – was involved in the effort to find a suitor to buy ailing Cyprus Airways.

“Upon assumption of the Presidency by Nicos Anastasiades, we have been witnessing a show featuring in-laws, partners, daughters, and the President’s close circle,” she said. “Normally, one could only find such scenarios in a Brazilian soap-opera, but in Cyprus they have become the reality of the last 20 months.”

Zacharias Koulias, the outspoken former DIKO deputy, presented a conspiracy by the two largest parties, AKEL and DISY, to defeat former President Tassos Papadopoulos and reap the spoils among themselves.

“There is an underground cooperation between the two large parties, which started in 2007 so that Tassos Papadopoulos would lose the elections and they could rotate in the Presidency,” he said. But he also attacked the Supreme Court for not stepping in to disallow legislation required by Cyprus’ international creditors, likening its judges to Pontius Pilate.

“The Supreme Court did not resist the Troika’s bills,” he charged. “At least Pontius Pilate was just one man – they are 13 and one could support the other.”

Source: Cyprus Mail

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