This article was first published on page 19 of The Cyprus Weekly (4 January 2013).
2013, dubbed by many as the most difficult year for Cyprus since 1974, is likely to be a year when the general public, and by extension civil society organisations, will increase their demands on the political leadership in light of economic austerity.
Here’s to wishing (and working) for a Happy New Year 2013!
1) Greater transparency and access to information
Writing in The Cyprus Weekly back in November, Maria Kapardis, Chairperson of Transparency Cyprus, spoke of the urgent need for greater transparency in political party funding, as highlighted in the Council of Europe’s GRECO report in 2011. In December, the presidential candidates who had put forward recommendations for fighting corruption all pulled out of an open discussion organised by Transparency Cyprus on the issue. However, going into 2013, there is a momentum generated behind a move for greater openness at the political level, and with the austerity measures likely to bite hard this year, the demand for transparency and accountability will grow. 2013 will also be a good time to implement the recommendations of the Access Info Cyprus project, which include, amongst others, adopting a law on access to public information, as well as full and proactive publication of information about the structure, policies, functioning, and budget of each public, to be presented in a way that is members of the general public can understand.
2) Protection and support for society’s vulnerable and marginalised groups
“During the economic crisis people with special needs and especially those with severe disability, face bigger problems due to their disabilities. The weight of these measures will affect people with special needs who are living on the poverty line even more.” A statement by the Cyprus Paraplegic Organisation, issued last November condemning impending cuts to government spending on benefits received by people with special needs. Nevertheless cuts went ahead as planned; cuts which will also affect other vulnerable groups in society including recognised refugees and asylum seekers. It appears that the time has come to close ranks in civil society around the issue of social policy and support. No longer are organisations fighting separate causes, and there must be a realisation that there is both a common cause to fight for and a value in the strength in numbers.
3) Establishing a functioning legal framework for civil society
There is a risk that we sound repetitive… However back in August we highlighted the fact that the process for reform of the Cyprus law as this relates to non-governmental organisations was stuck and in urgent need of a kick up the backside. We spoke with both the Ministries of the Interior and Finance, both of whom assured us that progress was being made and that we should expect “movement” in the process by the end of the calendar year. While both ministries may point to more pressing economic concerns, the majority of the groundwork has been done, and what is needed now is more of a ‘political’ push. We hope that after the presidential elections in February progress can be made towards seeing this process through to an acceptable conclusion for all.
4) Effective participation in the Cyprus peace process
Another process which came to a grinding halt last year, but is expected to be resuscitated in the post-election period. Whichever of the candidates assumes the Presidency they will be faced with a population that is frustrated by the lack of clear progress towards a solution. According to research conducted by the bicommunal think-tank Cyprus2015, there is an increasing trend towards a “no” vote: 51% amongst Greek Cypriot and 42% amongst Turkish Cypriots. In light of this, we believe that the leaders of the two communities would do well to consider Cyprus2015’s “five principles” for redesigning the peace process, and in particular to “develop mechanisms of public consultation, to ensure two-way communication between the leadership and society at large, thus creating a peace process which is owned by the grassroots”.