Favouritism and political connections undermine democracy in Cyprus
In the absence of lobbying regulation in Cyprus, the common practice of interest groups trying to influence public decision-making processes is especially worrisome given that it is opaque, taking place mostly through informal meetings and at social events – away from public scrutiny, said Cyprus University of Technology in the first-ever comprehensive report on lobbying in Cyprus.
“In a country where favouritism, bribery and nepotism thrive, the risks of unregulated and opaque lobbying are indeed alarming and cannot be ignored, which is why lobbying practices must come out of the shadows and be regulated,” said Dr Maria Krambia-Kapardis, coordinator of the Cypriot research team and Chair of Transparency International Cyprus. “We call on the government to pass legislation to regulate lobbying as well as to create a broader integrity framework with laws on access to information, whistleblowing protection, asset declaration, conflict of interests and revolving doors. Cyprus, along with Luxembourg, remain the only countries in the EU without a Freedom of Information legislation, and are thus lagging behind other EU countries.”
Without a register for disclosure of lobbying activities, Cypriots do not have sufficient knowledge regarding who is lobbying whom and for what purpose. Coupled with an outbreak of corruption scandals, particularly after the collapse of the Cypriot financial sector, the practice of lobbying, and, consequently, lobbyists, are perceived negatively in Cypriot society.
The report assesses the degree to which lobbying in Cyprus is transparent, ethical and allows for a plurality of interests to be represented in public decision-making processes. Cyprus has scored amongst the lowest in Europe with an overall score of just 14% (7% for Transparency, 21% for Integrity and 13% for Equality of Access).
The Cypriot assessment reveals that the absence of much-needed regulation has left the political system of Cyprus susceptible to undue influence. Findings indicate that the broader legal environment in Cyprus does not support ethical and transparent lobbying as there are major insufficiencies in existing laws, absence of regulation to adhere to basic transparency standards as set out by other EU and non EU Member States, and a lack of robust integrity mechanisms to regulate lobbyists and those being lobbied.
For lobbying to become a positive force within democratic processes in Cyprus, transparency should be established as a means for preventing political corruption. The report therefore recommends the creation of a compulsory “lobbied register” for members of Parliament and high-ranking governmental officials that are being lobbied on important issues. These officials should be mandated to disclose information about their meetings and encounters with lobbyists.
In the effort to guarantee equality of access in the decision making process, the report also recommends the creation of a formal “lobbyist register” which will be publicly available on the Parliament’s website for all of the interested stakeholders wishing to be heard by Parliamentary Committees. Through the creation of this register, interested stakeholders will be able to register and receive invitations for the meetings of the Parliamentary Committee that are of interest to them.
“Evidence from the report suggests that Cyprus has a very long way to go before being able to effectively regulate lobbyists, those lobbied and the lobbying practice generally,” said Krambia-Kapardis. “As the 2013 Eurobarometer highlights: 83% of Cypriots (the highest percentage in the EU) say that the only way to succeed in business is through political connections. This perception ought to change if we want foreign investors to take us seriously. Thus, transparent and ethical lobbying is imperative in our country.”
The report is available online at: http://www.transparencycyprus.org/lobbying/
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