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Fighting corruption takes courage

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Justice Minister Stephie Drakou was in parliament this week, where she told MPs the new framework for an independent anti-corruption agency would be in place at the beginning of 2022.

Naturally, MPs hailed this as the next best thing from the discovery of the wheel, all saying that we ‘finally’ have the right tools and mechanisms to combat white-collar crime.

And this, after a universal attempt to rid Cyprus from the ill-repute tied to the lavish way golden passports were dished out.

Plus, many more embarrassing revelations in the Panama Papers, the Al Jazeera Cyprus Papers and the more recent Pandora Papers.

The irony is that politicians are trying to rewrite the rule book on corruption, which often involves politicians or civil servants with friends in high places.

Setting up yet another committee or agency will do little to restore trust, especially by foreign investors.

The reforms announced by the minister are part of an EU-funded package aimed at justice reform.

But for this to happen, actions speak louder than words written on paper.

What is needed is changes in the existing mechanism that drives the public sector, such as the police recruitment scheme, that very often excludes able-minded persons from joining its ranks because of age, height or even, gender.

Also, becoming a member of the force is a job for life, with all the benefits of civil servants and little, if any, incentive to excel along one’s career path.

The police still have their hands tied when hiring outside experts, who are desperately needed to thoroughly investigate corruption, money laundering, fraud, or international crime cases.

Inter-agency cooperation is time-consuming and often tangled in Cyprus red tape, while despite the digitisation of state services, cross-departmental access to data is still limited.

Phone tapping was a big headache for legislators and crime busters, with all sorts of safeguards introduced, allegedly to conform with privacy issues, all of which allowed corrupt officials and criminals to work their way around obstacles and secure lucrative deals or contracts.

Little that some people may like him, the spotlight is currently on the Auditor General.

It’s not that the office is doing anything different.

Quite the contrary, they’re doing what other government watchdogs should have been doing for decades – probing anything from simple procedural errors to tax evasion or abuse of public funds.

What Cyprus really needs is more ‘untouchables’ to be appointed in key positions and have the legal and procedural freedom to investigate from the tiniest to the jumbo-size corruption cases and be able to prosecute directly.

Cyprus police have several services that need the right tools to do their job right.

Other agencies also have oversight bodies that need to know that they will be able to follow through on allegations, support charges and stand by whistleblowers.

Otherwise, the ‘reforms’ expected next year will be another way to pass the buck from one department to another, simply to ensure nothing gets done.

That would make politicians very happy.