Driving in a backseat democracy

3 mins read

Unsurprisingly, there was no rumble of indignation or calls for a public inquiry as to why a backroom deal was made to give civil servants a luxury ride at our expense.

It seems the privileged classes and those we elected as our representatives to tame the beast of political power did themselves a few favours and brought back some long-lost perks.

Senior public officials are better paid than most, do not have to prove themselves by any gauge of productive work practice and can come and go as they please.

They are beyond judgement, public ridicule or government scrutiny.

Public servants can bend the rules, make them into origami shapes, and nobody will call them out for it.

State officials serve no higher standard of public service; they are renowned for doing less of it.

Civil servants are the bureaucracy that feeds the malfunctioning machine we call democracy.

They are not political animals but a self-serving class shaped by nepotism, political favours where underachievement is worn like a badge of honour.

Such officials operate state institutions designed to deter Cypriots from accessing public services rather than help them navigate a system built on self-fulfilment.

A major reason the people have not stormed the ramparts to destroy the status quo is that many aspire to be part of the broken system perpetuating elite privilege.

Everyone hopes to work for the government because they are guaranteed a job for life without consequences.

If they sit in a chair long enough, they will get a promotion and a fat pension for a career looking the other way and granting kickbacks.

Institutions are stuck in the 19th century because there is no incentive to change; it would create more work and greater scrutiny.

Cypriots need to raise expectations in what they demand from public figures.

It would be outlandish to request honesty and accountability, but we should have assurances that taxpayers’ money is not squandered on pampering officials that already have the keys to the castle.

In a rare moment of contrition, President Nicos Anastasiades intervened to scrap free, around-the-clock use of state luxury vehicles for top civil servants after criticism it was a “scandalous” waste of taxpayers’ money.

Usually, such condemnation would be shrugged off until the accuser could shout no longer.

I’m sure it is a coincidence that this U-turn over limousines for private use comes as the 2023 presidential election race heats up.

In a government statement, it was made known that Anastasiades instructed the finance minister to withdraw the plans after realising the use of such vehicles extended beyond official duties to activities like family outings and shopping trips.

He didn’t just fall out of bed with a sudden revelation as this was an under-the-radar deal negotiated by the government, unions and the political parties.

This was a perk of the job that existed in the past. It was brought back to life ( a union demand, I assume), hoping that nobody would mind.

The Cabinet approved the move earlier this month without a hint of the unethical nature of civil servants given an expensive car to drive around in their free time with Cypriots on low wages picking up the tab.

Anastasiades said he shut the move down because of exploitation concerns and the public’s sense of justice.

It hadn’t occurred to him that during the time of a pandemic and economic hardship, it wasn’t the best look in the world to give fat cat civil servants a free pass in a limousine.

High-ranking civil servants had enjoyed 24-hour access to luxury state cars for personal use until January 2016.

Parliament stripped them of their privilege following three years of fiscal belt-tightening after the 2013 bank deposit haircut.

This ostentatious behaviour toward government finances brought the country to its knees as people lost their pensions and savings.

How was offering wealthy civil servants a huge luxury car to go shopping in the public interest?

Serious politicians sat around a table or video calls to convince themselves that luxury cars were the best use of public money.

Why? Because senior civil servants have done such a good job at keeping the country corrupt-free, they deserved to let their hair down at the wheel of a limousine.

In what universe do they deserve such out-of-hours perks when people are exploited in the job market?

At least granting high-ranking civil servants unfettered access to flash vehicles had angered state auditor Odysseas Michaelides.

He said allowing government officials to stand on the shoulders of Cypriot taxpayers must be resisted.

In a society of unequals, there are more battles to come.