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Will the new president save SMEs?

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Cyprus is finally coming out of eight months of election fatigue, and hopefully, life will return to some sense of normalcy. At least on the political front.

As regards the economy, we’ve had our ups and downs with the two Anastasiades administrations.

When he first came to office ten years ago, the president inherited a bankrupt financial system.

Cyprus had to deal with a banking collapse, and depositors suffered a painful bail-in.

The government eventually paid back a Troika bailout but failed to rescue the highly indebted Co-op Bank and the high-wage Cyprus Airways.

And lost its credibility by converting a short-term cash injection scheme to a fully blown money-making machine with the ‘golden passports’.

The latter’s main beneficiaries were lawyers and crooked property developers with no end in sight to the greed until an Al Jazeera probe made some painful revelations.

As tourism started to pick up and enjoyed a record number of arrivals, year after year, the Covid-19 pandemic kicked in and decimated the holiday sector.

The immediate beneficiaries were the hoteliers who were generously reimbursed for hosting planeloads of arriving passengers as the state tried to control the spread of the virus.

Today, some of these hotels are also cashing in on the plight of Ukrainian refugees.

The shipping sector did relatively better, but the impact of Covid primarily hurt the seafarers, while the cruise industry has only now started to pick up.

The war in Ukraine also impacted this sector, where fortunately, the maritime industry continued to work in unison and quietly for the greater good, as it always has done.

We had some success stories in between, such as a boom in the IT and forex businesses and the occasional film production popping up.

Although the national health system is still struggling to stand on its own feet, there is little in sight regarding hospitals’ complete autonomy.

Throughout all these developments, the worst hit has been the small and medium-sized enterprises, the neighbourhood and family businesses, many of which are still struggling.

Sure, incentives were given, but the wrong type and to the wrong people.

What used to be the backbone of the Cyprus economy has nearly vanished, with many facing closure year after year but not returning to the economy.

The trendy ‘startups’ were boosted to show that Cyprus was involved.

To this day, the bureaucracy in submitting a simple form, receiving a reply to an email or even getting someone in the civil service to answer the phone is unacceptable.

One-stop shops have come and gone, but nothing has been done to improve efficiency, raise productivity and introduce reward-based pay rises.

The new president must seriously look at the SMEs neglected by politicians, government officials and trade unions.

These people have kept the economy going through storms and crises.

It’s about time we saw a revival of the small and consumer-friendly business.