Integrity swiped in the bear pit of Cyprus politics

6 mins read

In Cyprus privilege matters, it is the birthright of many who believed they are entitled to rule, reaping the rewards of their superior intellect and social standing.

Traditional Cypriot politics cannot thrive without the concept or unswerving loyalty to entitlement, dipping one’s nose in the trough of nepotism where only the cronies are allowed to bathe.

It is why the connected get the plumb jobs while everyone else has to work for a living on wages that ration expectation in quality of life.

There is no coincidence that the power brokers ensure a closed shop for members of the wealthy or well connected, although being young or female serve as an impediment in the rarified, but toxic air of Cyprus politics.

And if there is any doubt that the old guard was determined to hang on even when their days are numbered, the furore of the Attorney General’s tenure was a classic case study of the “me first” culture.

During the time of COVID, a mini reshuffle of the cabinet is not an event to stir the imagination or get excited about, unless you harbour ambitions of sitting at the big table.

The only mildly interesting aspect of the announcement was the President woke up to discover there were women around who could do a job in the overwhelmingly male cabinet.

After painting himself as a trailblazer for gender rights, Anastasiades ignored women in his previous round of distributing ministry appointments for services rendered.

Among his three new ministers, two are women – which still makes them a minority of three in the male-dominated cabinet.

Cyprus seems happily unperturbed that it has one of the worst gender ratios in European politics.

Nevertheless, tokenism, rather than integrity, goes a long way in Nicosia’s political bearpit.

Anyway, the government listed the appointees to take office, as the Justice and Defence Ministers (both lawyers) were to become the new Attorney General and his loyal deputy.

A date was set for their inauguration on July 10, to ensure a smooth changeover as the incumbent Costas Clerides was due to retire when turning 68 on July 8.

The process was set in motion with the wheels of government getting a tyre change halfway into the administration’s second term.

Before making his declaration of intent, Anastasiades – a shrewd lawyer in his own right – he hadn’t read the small print of the attorney general’s job description.

Clerides perceived the haste to usher him out of office, before his time had technically lapsed, as a slur on his integrity and impeccable character.

Retirement age

He stood his ground, pointing out the legal complexities of why he should stay beyond July 8 – when he was supposed to bow out gracefully – and stay until the end of the month.

It was understood that Clerides would retire on 8 July, when he turned 68, the retirement age for an Attorney General under the constitution.

But he argued – like a good prosecutor – that the pension law states he is entitled to retire at the end of July.

There was also the fact he couldn’t take his annual leave because there was no deputy AG to mind the shop.

When it was suggested that the island’s top legal eagle wanted to stay an extra three weeks for the money, Clerides retorted such a suggestion was tantamount to treason.

For a while, there was a stand-off with the government not wanting to get into a scrap with a smart former judge who could take them to the cleaners.

It seemed the ministers would have to wait until August before switching career paths until Clerides resigned in a huff of indignation suggesting there was witch-hunt to sully his good name.

Maybe the saddest part in this playground saga is it dominated the headlines, making a mockery of the institution while indicating justice isn’t blind if reputations are at stake.

Anastasiades had a constitutional right to appoint a new attorney general while the onus was on Clerides to ensure a smooth exchange of the baton.

Taking Custer’s last stand over whether he should look out the office window for an extra three weeks is a rather undignified and smacks of self-importance.

Clerides said he was resigning to preserve his honour under a barrage of hostile publicity, but the mess was of his own making.

Ironically, his seven years in office will be clouded by the way he departed rather than the legacy he leaves behind.