The establishment of a committee has become the answer to every problem faced by the government in Cyprus. Nicos Anastasiades started this practice during his presidency, setting up a committee whenever the government was being criticised and needed to be seen doing something. These committees also provided more public posts for party hangers-on who wanted a public role, although they were nowhere near as lucrative as the many commissions Anastasiades set up during his ten years in office.
President Nikos Christodoulides, in his first eight months in office, has also been busy setting up committees, one supposedly to oversee appointments, another to advise the government on appointments to semi-governmental boards, one to ensure sanctions were being implemented and so forth. Do committees make government works easier, create another obstacle to getting things done or just exist for cosmetic value?
The government is currently preparing the establishment of another committee, this time titled the Unitary Supervisory Authority, with the purpose of supervising the providers of professional services, who featured prominently in the Cyprus Confidential papers, released earlier this week. The decision for the establishment of this new authority was taken by the council of ministers last June, but little had been done. After the ICIJ reports, the government found a new sense of urgency and hopes to have the relevant bill completed before the end of the year.
The Authority will supervise auditors, lawyers and providers of financial services, even though they are self-regulating, each having its own professional body. To be fair, these bodies operate more like trade unions, protecting the interests of their members rather than ensuring high professional standards. In this regard they are rather lax, but would a supervisory state authority make any difference?
State authorities that have the responsibility for ensuring enforcement of the law have failed spectacularly. Take for example Mokas, the unit for combating money laundering, which has been in operation for 19 years now. How many cases of money laundering has it uncovered in these 19 years? How many people or companies has it reported? There has been a plethora of allegations of money laundering in these 19 years, yet Mokas has had a completely passive role.
Why would a new state authority, made up of placemen on big salaries, be any different? Is it because the government plans not to have lawyers supervising lawyers? The Bar Association has already conveyed its opposition to the president, but the message was that there was no turning back for the government. Will the Unitary Supervisory Authority monitor accountants and lawyers, or will it turn out to be a waste of the taxpayer’s money? Past experience does not allow for much optimism.