... and why many sectors are not yet liberalised
Fortunately, the government found a way to overcome the unacceptable bill aimed to close shops on Sundays. This bill, with all sorts of nonsense and gibberish, found many of us totally opposed. Limassol, the star of tourism, Larnaca, Paphos, etc. are not considered tourist areas and the reason is because our MPs can’t be bothered about the social fabric (new words for our vocabulary), while this social fabric itself does not exist in Paralimni , Latchi etc.
So, according to the proposed bill, stores up to 150 sq.m. would be allowed to operate, while shops of 152 sq.m. would not. If you were in this category, the best thing to do would be to separate a part of the store (on Sundays only) with some false partition, so that the store of 180 sq.m. on Sunday alone is reduced to 150 sq.m. And what is included in the area of a shop? The covered verandahs, underground storage, the pavement where goods are displayed? What if a store, which is not a souvenir shop, also offers local traditional dishes. So, a store of 300 sq.m. could on Sundays add some cheap “trinkets” made in China, bottles with sweets, etc., as well as the rest. What, then would this shop be – a store, gift shop or eatery?
The argument used by the majority of our cognitive MPs to subsidise the small store owners employing 2-3 people was that the large stores had become monopolies. So, the “small” stores would work on Sundays and this would help build the social fabric for the large majority? Is this not a contradiction?
All this talk about monopolies and monopolies, but the most monopolistic “store” is the pharmacy. Observing the ‘standard bearer’ of this effort, DIKO MP Angelos Votsis (a pharmacist), arguing the reasons for his party maintaining this position raises many questions (although AKEL’s opposition to capitalistic abuse on Sundays is perfectly understandable based on their ideology). Given the restrictive regulations for pharmacies, there is no other more restrictive monopolistic activity in Cyprus – distance from one pharmacy to another, late night services that are not so (but are obliged to open up if we call them). We should really see what would happen to Mr Votsis if the pharmacies sector is fully liberalised.
Now we come to the casino and to the proposed bill where here too there is competition among the parties to see which one will impose the most restrictions. Starting from the smoking ban (consider the example of a casino project in Spain that was turned down by American investors because of this), while in the Las Vegas-type casinos, which we want to copy, smoking is permitted only in the players’ rooms, outside of other spaces such as restaurants, show halls, etc. Another party explained that the 15% tax on income should be gradually increased to 30%. How bright these party officials are to believe that hordes of foreign investors are waiting in queue to pump in 500 mln euros. If a truly “free” casino is built by our most competitive country, Malta, then we have lost the game because maybe our region will not be able to support both. So the first casino will win the bet.
The liberalisation is based on the efforts by the state to increase revenue, boost tourism and hence help create demand for property (which involves everybody from borrowers to banks). Further liberalisation is also needed in other areas as well, such as opening hours of banks, the public service, registration of companies, etc.
The “curse” in this country is our outdated mentality and the lack of affection for Cyprus from various parties concerned. For example, what is a fan card needed for, asked a party official who believes that believes hooligans from his team’s supporters will be monitored? Who cares about 7,000 unemployed simply to help 200-500 small shop owners survive? Why did the plan for building amnesty fail, why did the plan to convert old touristic units into apartments for sale fail? Why, then, is there a demand for 30% of young people to become teachers? Is it because parties and politicians are being blackmailed by the potential list of 1,000 unappointed teachers just as the strikes in hospitals were for pay increases and nothing else? Why should air traffic controllers earn 150,000 euros a year? Why, then, has a particular party suggested that the casino license must also include a golf resort? Where in Las Vegas have they seen such resorts, unless the aim is to serve the interests of friendly developers.
In all this mess of corruption in the political scene and others, we are still trying to attract foreign investors. As an office we undertook a promotional “offensive” (as stated by the Irish prime minister) to attract foreign investors into Cyprus properties, and what did we get in return? Several mostly negative responses and who listens to the President of the Cyprus Investment Promotion Agency (CIPA) nowadays who says that we are not projecting a good image and we are pushing away potential investors. Even for the Archbishop’s development project in Yeroskipou, suddenly two other companies have cropped up with the identical plans who are interested. Where were they all this time? Were they perhaps driven by jealousy or by some others simply to delay this project?
Unfortunately, we don’t have the right investigative journalists who will dig deep into these issues and expose those at fault, and so there is no answer. There are only a handful of radio presenters that I hear of nowadays, but even their work and reach is restricted, but even that is somewhat necessary to allow democracy to function properly.