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Passports-for-cash debacle haunts Cyprus

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Economists, more so politicians, seem to be upset over the ‘unfavourable’ and negative publicity Cyprus is once again exposed to in the foreign media over the haphazard way passports have been dished out in the past.

The argument has been that the Cyprus economy has earned some €7 bln from selling about 4,000 passports, at a time when the meltdown of the economy and collapse of the banking sector in 2013 could not be revived in any other way.

Defending this argument, government officials claim that ‘only 56’ from a total 2,700 applications (some of these were for multiple passports) had been rejected.

Once again, we need to understand that selling passports is not sustainable and it is only a matter of time before our EU partners get back to considering imposing sanctions on Cyprus.

The scheme continues to thrive, as is the case revealed this week of affording passports to 10 members of an out-of-favour Saudi prince, benefitting a handful of legal or financial services providers.

Worse still, as Cyprus tries to maintain a balance in its alliances with neighbouring countries, support in international fora for the never-ending ‘Cyprus problem’ seems to be waning, which is why the Nicosia is scared of chastising ‘Permanent Five’ members of the UN Security Council, such as China, or other influential states in the Arab League, of gross human rights violations.

Cyprus was also (and remains) in discord over whether it should support Russia’s invasion and occupation of Crimea, for fear of upsetting Moscow, another P5 Security Council member.

Veiled threats have already been issued from within and outside the Kremlin as regards removing investments from the island and sending tourists to other holiday destinations, entangling Cyprus in a greater web over the religious schism within the Orthodox world, over who should rule the Christians in Ukraine.

To benefit from solidarity, Cyprus needs to offer solidarity.

The government has been slow to react to the humanitarian crisis that is devouring the European dream and has adopted the safe ‘follow the herd’ policy, for fear of upsetting one or another influence.

However, to regain the long-forgotten reputation of good, hardworking and honest entrepreneurs, the investments for passports saga has to end, or at least become fully transparent about who will or has benefitted from this programme.

Despite the pledges to do so, a cloud of secrecy still hangs over Cyprus, effectively preventing genuine foreign investors from pouring their millions in our economy.

There are several other ways to ensure the economy is sustainable, and you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to know it.

The ‘new normal’ heralds a new era not to be missed, by turning the crisis into an opportunity. Cyprus can become greener, cleaner (not just the environment) and wiser.

We should stop destroying the legacy of future generations, because of the greed of a few people today.