Final Cyprus election debate focuses on home governance and the economy

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Home governance and the economy were the focus of the final debate, on Monday evening, of the three main candidates for the presidential elections of February 17, namely Nicos Anastasiades, Stavros Malas and Giorgos Lillikas.

The debate was held at the Cyprus Broadcasting Corporation (CyBC), with a panel of news directors from the four largest Cyprus-wide television stations.

The questions asked mainly concerned the bailout agreement for Cyprus` economy, the natural gas deposits, money laundering allegations, the modernisation of the state, and other home governance issues.

Referring to the bailout agreement, Anastasiades said he had never argued that it could be renegotiated but he did say that there were distortions concerning social policies that affect people in need, adding that “we should look into some terms, which are unsustainable and disrupt social cohesion, can be changed."

Asked if he would be delving into who was responsible for the state of the economy, if elected, Anastasiades said the terms given to the US investment management firm PIMCO and the whole handling in the past few months of financial concerns will be examined, in order to find who, besides the banks, was responsible.

Furthermore, he said Black Rock or another notable agency would be assigned to carry out a study in order "to compare scientific arguments, to reduce the needs for the recapitalisation of the banks."

Anastasiades said his programme contained many measures to combat corruption, such as clarifying the civil and criminal liabilities of the President of the Republic, his Ministers and other state officials, and measures to amend the immunity of the MPs.

He noted that so far 49 bills have been prepared concerning commitments for modernisation and prospects of attracting foreign and local investments, thus creating a functional, modern and efficient state, with a social net for the citizens.

Anastasiades said he had no neoliberal views and that, if elected, there would be checks at all workplaces employing illegal workers or EU citizens with low-income contracts, adding that the green card should be established to protect the Cypriot workers.

He also said he never supported the privatisation of state organisations and recalled a statement made by the Central Bank Governor that Cyprus has already conceded to privatisations, if necessary, in the bailout agreement.

Referring to allegations that his law firm had been involved in money laundering, Anastasiades said that he had nothing to hide and that, if investigations under the Attorney General came up with anything this week, he would withdraw his candidacy for the presidency of the Republic.

Replying to questions, AKEL-backed Stavros Malas said that if blame was not apportioned to the banks, then "the people will be chasing us with stones," adding that the responsibilities are not such that warrant taking political persons to court.

Malas said the next government will have to deal with the bailout agreement and that those who wish to be elected should have the ability to give hope to the people, who have managed to survive worse situations in the past.

He added that social cohesion and development were necessary and that the bailout agreement should provide for development, noting that if Cyprus did not have a demanding government there would be a new financial crisis with social decomposition.

Malas said the citizens should have electronic access to all decisions taken by the government and its departments, that a framework should be set up for the civil liability of ministers and department directors, and that declarations of wealth should be made by all those who handle public funds.

Regarding the recent appointment by the government of the Deputy Governor of the Central Bank, a position vacant for over half a century, Malas said it was deemed necessary and that the Central Bank should operate as an independent institution.

Furthermore, he said that President of the Republic Demetris Christofias had taken the political responsibilities for the deadly explosion of confiscated ammunition, which was stored in direct sunlight at the Mari naval base. The explosion killed 13 persons and injured dozens.

He added that investigations have not indicated that the President had criminal responsibilities and that the lesson learned from the blast was that there were deficiencies in the functioning of the state.

Malas also said that, if elected, he would promote the national health scheme, and would set up a national coalition government.

Independent candidate Giorgos Lillikas reiterated his position to do away with the bailout agreement within 2013, with the immediate exploitation of natural gas.

He said the Republic of Cyprus, through the bailout agreement, should maintain its state sovereignty without the approval of the Troika, and must include a clear clause that, when the loan is paid off, Cyprus will be free of the terms of the bailout agreement.

Lillikas said it was necessary to create growth and new jobs, and maintain the income from the natural gas, noting that with an unsustainable debt the income would end up in Troika accounts.

Asked how this could be done, since the terms of the bailout agreement were already being implemented with salary and benefit cuts, to name but a few, Lillikas said it was necessary to create growth and development by, inter alia, attracting investments, creating casinos, building a natural gas terminal, introducing strategic investors to semi-governmental organisations, utilising scientists and bright minds in Cyprus, and securing loans from friendly countries.

To questions about contracts secured by his wife`s company while he was a Minister in the previous government, Lillikas said this was slander and imaginary scandals, adding that this time he would not settle for apologies but would be suing for libel, and would give any damages awarded to charity organisations.

Lillikas also said that, if elected, he would appoint criminal investigators for the banks and other responsible for the situation of the economy, and would demand declarations of wealth.

He added that he would hire unemployed scientists to work fulltime as labour inspectors, to check for undeclared work and other illegalities.

Regarding reports concerning money laundering and the Eurogroup decision for auditing by a private agency, Lillikas said he had to study the decision first but reiterated his absolute disagreement, noting that there were EU institutions for such tasks.
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