Thank you Mr. Alan Kelly

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

Now, this is a min­is­ter of a coun­try that is en­dur­ing (with a bet­ter econ­omy than our own) the Troika and an aus­ter­ity plan, wage cuts and un­em­ploy­ment, but af­ter many sac­ri­fices is now on a growth path with un­em­ploy­ment re­duced from 15% in 2012 to 9% in 2015 and a growth rate ris­ing from zero to 4% in 2016.

I want to re­turn to the de­bate about ur­ban de­vel­op­ment mea­sures and see­ing the eco­nomic sit­u­a­tion of Cyprus we seem to be liv­ing with our heads in the clouds. The highly paid semi- and govern­ment em­ploy­ees are once again mak­ing noise about re­in­stat­ing their wages, the dreaded cost of liv­ing al­lowance (COLA), etc., while pri­vate sec­tor work­ers who have car­ried the bur­den of re­struc­tur­ing the econ­omy, re­main ig­nored, with 50,000 still un­em­ployed. At the same time the unions de­mand that they shape the eco­nomic pol­icy of the state, with the political sup­port­ing their ev­ery move. So what if the Troika does not give us the fi­nal 500 mln euros in aid, if we sim­ply do not go ahead with pri­vati­sa­tions, a party leader re­torted. Even if the Troika is lend­ing to us with an in­ter­est of 1.5%, would we be bet­ter off go­ing to the mar­kets and bor­row­ing at 4.5% and let the Cypriot tax payer carry the bur­den?

The Ir­ish seem to be more pa­tri­otic than us Cypri­ots and they set one goal, to rid them­selves of the Troika pro­gramme. Among th­ese non-pa­tri­ots are some highly paid pub­lic of­fi­cials with ex­pen­sive limos and driv­ers, but do not seem to have any qualms to be the rea­son for un­nec­es­sary fines im­posed on the Re­pub­lic that we cit­i­zens have to pay through our taxes. Now we have the Aka­mas quandary that will not be solved be­cause we have a small group of self-pro­claimed en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists who ob­ject to re­duce the area of the Natura scheme within the na­tional park, even if it costs us an ad­di­tional 700 mln euros that the state cur­rently does not have, in ad­di­tion to the 5 mln an­nual up­keep cost.

As re­gards the men­tal­ity that pre­vails on th­ese is­sues, I re­fer to the men­tal­ity that pre­vails in some govern­ment de­part­ments, mainly in the Town Plan­ning Dept. (and the ETEK tech­ni­cal cham­ber that likes to re­mind it­self that it is the ad­viser to the State) that re­mains silent over the pro­pos­als for “af­ford­able” ur­ban­i­sa­tion.

In ad­di­tion to the Aka­mas plan and the non-vi­able ideas I have been crit­i­cis­ing for the past 20 years, we now have to deal with new re­quire­ments of min­i­mum ar­eas for apart­ments. Ir­re­spec­tive if a fam­ily can af­ford to buy a two-bed­room apart­ment or not, the area is set at a min­i­mum of 80 sq.m. So, our tech­nocrats have reg­u­lated by law how many square me­ters Cypriot cit­i­zens should live in, ir­re­spec­tive if it is af­ford­able or not. We also have re­quire­ment for park­ing spa­ces re­gard­less if the pro­ject lies within the cen­tral con­fines of towns and if there is no land in or­der to build park­ing spa­ces on, sim­ply to al­low the lo­cal mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties to charge 3,000 to 5,000 euros per “vir­tual” space that will never be granted. There­fore, with the small plot sizes that ex­ist in city cen­tre res­i­den­tial ar­eas, and de­spite govern­ment so­cial poli­cies for “cheap” hous­ing, any ef­fort to re­vive the econ­omy through this ad­di­tional mea­sure has failed.

So for the sake of com­par­i­son, con­cern­ing the min­i­mum sq.m. in Ire­land, I present the fol­low­ing ta­ble:

The is­sue of our min­i­mum ar­eas is par­tic­u­larly ev­i­dent in the tourist / res­i­den­tial apart­ments where a high pro­por­tion are for­eign buy­ers (in 2008 45% of de­mand by for­eign­ers, while in 2015 it was 27%), a rate which is very high sug­gest­ing the ba­sis of our con­struc­tion in­dus­try.

If we com­pare two projects which are un­der our own man­age­ment, the Ayios Elias in Pro­taras with 2-bed­room apart­ments of 60 sq.m. and an­other in Lar­naca with an area of ??80 sq.m., we find that there is a dif­fer­ence in the sell­ing price of around 40,000 euros, in­clud­ing VAT, trans­fer fees and con­struc­tion costs. While the first pro­ject due its low sell­ing price has a long wait­ing list of buy­ers with de­mand for re­sales at higher prices, while in the se­cond we see new units for sale of­fered at 30% less than the de­mand.

It is the lat­est fash­ion for some­one to re­port the mat­ter to the Au­di­tor Gen­eral, but should be the ba­sis for the com­plaint: nar­row- mind­ed­ness, in­dif­fer­ence, stu­pid­ity, what? “Get real,” said En­vi­ron­ment Min­is­ter of Ire­land and per­haps we should bor­row the phrase to study the tragic state of our ur­ban plan­ning.

Since I have been writ­ing about this sub­ject for 15 years with the sug­ges­tion that flawed de­ci­sions by govern­ment of­fi­cials should be re­warded in the form of com­pen­sa­tion, per­haps who­ever heads the Town Plan­ning Dept. and oth­ers with sim­i­lar ideas (in­clud­ing and the state ad­vi­sor) should adopt the rec­om­men­da­tion for com­pen­sa­tion. This may be a the­ory, but we should start from somwhere.

In my last ar­gu­ment with pub­lic of­fi­cials it stated that “Cypriot should live in de­cency, not in holes”. So, I ask, why not place a limit on what is the min­i­mum re­quire­ment for a Cypriot to buy a mini-car, and opt for a larger Mercedes, be­cause Cypriot should not only live but also drive “de­cently”.

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