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Cyprus Mail: News Articles in English, 98-05-31
From: The Cyprus Mail at <http://www.cynews.com/>
Sunday, May 31, 1998
 From podium to odium: anatomy of a blunderBy Hamza Hendawi
IT WAS showtime and everything was just right: a posh setting and a select audience of bankers, diplomats, economists and industry captains.
So when his turn came, a smiling Christodoulos Christodoulou cheerfully walked to the podium to give his address, beginning with an expression of his "profound joy at being given the opportunity to speak".
The Finance Minister then went on to speak of the "dynamism" of the island's economy and what he called the government's expanding fiscal policy to enhance economic activity during a slow 1997.
"The fiscal deficit on its own is not enough to judge an economy in its entirety. Our other indicators are very good and prove we have macro- economic stability," he asserted last Monday at the opening day of a business conference organised by the prestigious 'The Economist Conferences'.
But by Thursday evening, the Christodoulou brimming with confidence was nowhere to be found. Gone too were the chic surroundings of the Nicosia Hilton's banqueting hall and the niceties of conference participants glad to be spared another grinding day at work.
In their place was a sometime sullen and sometime smirking Christodoulou, the shabby, fluorescent-lit inside of the House of Representatives building, and deputies smelling blood.
Throwing to the wind an election promise not to increase taxes in 1998, the Finance Minister took to the house a five-part package of hard-hitting tax hikes that he thought he could sell as the only way to narrow the deficit and refill the state coffers.
He was wrong, and his blunder landed the government in its worst domestic policy crisis since President Glafcos Clerides first took office in 1993, straining relations between Clerides' Disy, the senior coalition party, and junior partners socialist Edek and the United Democrats.
The two junior coalition partners, arguing that they were not adequately consulted on the measures in advance, joined the opposition in throwing out the one part of the package on which a vote was taken on Thursday night.
"The minister did not handle the matter very well," Diko stalwart Tassos Papadopoulos told the Cyprus Mail.
"He could not have discussed the specifics of a taxation bill beforehand, but he could have generally explained the state of the economy and government finances with everyone before he brought it to the House."
Opposition deputies, some clearly taken back by the severity of the proposed tax increases, had a field-day in the debate which preceded Thursday's vote.
Some ridiculed the government for repeated references to the need to comply with Maastricht criteria, accusing it of hitting the poor to solve an economic crisis and blatantly reneging on an election promise.
Christodoulou has responded to references to that pledge as a "simplification" of issues, citing what he called an "unexpected development" for the resounding defeat of the government in the House.
His argument, however, appears to have cut no ice.
"The government in the run-up to the (presidential) election last February told us that the economy was in a good shape. So, if they could not project a couple of months ahead, then I am sorry, but we have a serious problem here," said Neophytos Neophytou, managing-director of AAA United, a leading stock brokerage.
"The whole thing was badly timed," he said.
Also speaking to the Cyprus Mail, other economists, analysts and businessmen criticised the package for its failure to take steps to curtail public spending and for its lack of a comprehensive approach to what they see as structural problems with the economy.
"They should control their spending first and issue measures to protect those with limited income before they raise taxes," said Yiannos Andronikou of Suphire Securities, a Nicosia-based brokerage.
"I think the package represented the wrong approach," declared Andreas Theophanous, an economics lecturer at Nicosia's Intercollege.
"The economy needs a total package. You cannot raise taxes in a package like this without first redressing the structural problems in the economy," he said. "There is also a lack of a long-term strategy in my view."
Prominent businessman Constantinos Lordos also declared himself against the government approach. "As long as government spending is not curtailed by cutting down the size of the government machinery, the new tax measures will provide only a temporary solution," he said.
"Fiscal problems will be eased temporarily, but before long the government will have to resort to new tax hikes and more public borrowing, thus traumatising the economy irreparably," he added.
 What he wanted to doHere are the measures proposed by Finance Minister Christodoulos Christodoulou to the House last Thursday:
Rejected by the House:
* 25-cent increase on every packet of 20 cigarettes. * Five-cent increase on a litre of petrol. * Three-cent increase on a litre of diesel. * Change of tax on imported second-hand cars. * Increase in tax on all-terrain vehicles.
The above measures were expected to bring the treasury £25.3 million this year and £44.5 annually thereafter.
The following have been referred by the House to the Finance Committee:
<li>VAT up from eight per cent to 12 per cent and up from 0 per cent to five per cent on items currently exempt from the tax. </li> * Five per cent VAT on services offered at restaurants and hotels. <li>The reintroduction of a three per cent charge on services offered at public establishments certified by the Cyprus Tourism Organisation from July 1999.</li>
The above will generate revenue of £30 million this year and 120 annually thereafter.
<li>The abolition of duty exemptions currently enjoyed by some semi- government organisations. This will generate £1.7 million this year and £3 annually thereafter.</li> <li>Increases by 35 per cent on vehicle registration and road tax, effective January 1999. This will bring the treasury £10 million annually</li> <li>A five-pound monthly charge on mobile telephones to net the government £2.5 million this year and £5 million annually thereafter. </li>
 Tourist horror as dog is shot dead in the streetBy Martin Hellicar
TOURISTS looked on in horror as a little grey terrier called Patch was first run down and then shot dead in a Limassol street by a municipality dog catcher, the animal's distraught owner said yesterday.
Ignoring onlookers' pleas to spare the exhausted dog, the catcher shot the pet and then drove off, leaving the dead dog behind.
The owner - who wished to remain anonymous - told the Cyprus Mail the incident happened outside a crowded swimming pool in Yermasoyia at about 9.30am on Thursday. It left shocked tourists vowing never to return to the island.
"It was barbarous behaviour," the owner said.
"Witnesses saw a Yermasoyia municipality van chasing Patch down the street. After a while the dog collapsed and they ran him over; then a municipality worker got out and shot him in the street right in front of children and tourists, who were begging him not to shoot it," the owner said.
"He then left the dog in the street, only returning about two hours later to carry it off in a plastic bag," she added.
By law, stray dogs have to be rounded up and then kept for at least 24 hours in a pound - giving owners a chance to recover their pets - before being put down humanely. Yermasoyia municipality could not be contacted for comment yesterday.
"No one can put down a dog unless he is a government vet, and no grace period was given, as stipulated by law," the owner protested.
She said her efforts to speak to Yermasoyia municipality about the incident had led nowhere.
"The municipality workers probably went there because someone had complained of a stray dog. But it was not: it had been but we had taken it in and were looking after it," the owner said.
"It was young and playful but it was certainly not dangerous," she added.
A local representative for a British travel agent said he had received a list of "about 20" British visitors who had witnessed the incident and who were now determined never to return. They also planned to tell their story to newspapers back home.
"It was the way in which it was done, right outside a public swimming pool and in front of children," he said.
Municipalities launched concerted campaigns to round up strays in the wake of a spate of dog attacks last year, including one in which an alsatian savaged a five-year-old boy to death in Larnaca.
"Ever since that little boy was tragically killed there has been a craze to put down all dogs. One isolated incident does not prove that all dogs are bad," the owner said yesterday.
 Soldier stabbed in bayonet 'game'DEFENCE Minister Yiannakis Omirou yesterday ordered an investigation into an incident at a Larnaca National Guard camp in which a soldier was injured in the abdomen by a bayonet.
Nineteen-year-old Christos Christou, from Kalo Chorio outside Larnaca, was recovering in Larnaca hospital yesterday after undergoing emergency surgery late on Friday. His condition was yesterday described as stable.
Police said Christou was accidentally injured by a colleague's bayonet as the two fooled around at the camp on Friday afternoon. The name of the other National Guardsman involved, who is being held by military police, has not been released.
 Probe into alleged malpracticeA LAWYER from the attorney-general's office has been appointed by the Council of Ministers to examine a case of alleged malpractice involving two public service doctors.
The investigation began after a complaint by Stavros Stavrianou regarding the treatment of his son Louis by doctors Andreas Petrides and Christos Solomonides at Limassol General Hospital.
The Council of Ministers acted on a recommendation by the Ombudsman that the Health Ministry proceed with a disciplinary investigation against the two doctors.
Louis, 14, was taken to the hospital in March last year after sustaining serious damage to his right wrist in a school accident. According to his father, the doctors concerned failed to perform the necessary surgery on the student to ensure blood supply to his fingertips, resulting in his right hand suffering from atrophy.
The problem was discovered and treated by a specialist at Makarios Hospital's plastic surgery clinic two months later when Louis was referred for an examination. He will now have to have another operation to return the sense of touch to his fingers.
 Water chief cleared of criminal actionA GOVERNMENT investigation into allegations that a top civil servant was using his subordinates to carry out construction work on his home in Nicosia on government time has failed to uncover criminal negligence.
Water Development Department Director Lakis Christodoulou was accused of giving his staff time off to build his luxurious residence in Nicosia. A police raid on the building site last week led to the arrest of four water department employees, caught red-handed working on the house. Water Department machinery was also found on the site.
Agriculture Minister Costas Themistocleous called for the suspension of Christodoulou earlier this week while Senior Counsel Georgia Erotocritou investigated the scandal.
But her investigations dismissed criminal charges on the basis of insufficient evidence. The possibility of disciplinary measures is still being considered.
Christodoulou maintained throughout the proceedings that any disciplinary inquiry would reveal that the allegations against him were unfounded.
 Briton remanded as drugs suspectTHE British flat-mate of a Dane flown home on Thursday to face drug trafficking charges was yesterday remanded suspected of drug pushing.
Famagusta District Court heard that police had been after 20-year-old Thomas David Watkins since the May 22 raid on the Ayia Napa flat he shared with Danish suspect Kurt Nielsen.
Watkins was in the flat at the time of the raid and Nielsen's arrest, but he escaped before police could apprehend him, the court heard.
The 20-year-old from Ipswich was eventually tracked down, arrested, and brought up before the court yesterday.
Case investigator Andreas Constantinou told the court police had a statement from a witness saying Watkins had approached a foreign visitor in Ayia Napa offering to sell cannabis. A small quantity of cannabis was found on the suspect at the time of his arrest, Constantinou said.
He said police believed the Briton was part of a gang smuggling narcotics into Cyprus.
Watkins was remanded for eight days.
Nielsen, 32, from Copenhagen, is wanted in Denmark on charges of possession and trafficking in more than 100 kilos of cannabis imported from Norway.
 Arson suspected after car blazePOLICE were yesterday investigating a suspected arson attack on a car in the Larnaca district.
The car, belonging to 19-year-old National Guardsman Adamos Kirgias, went up in flames in the garden of his Ayios Georgios Vrysoules home at around 3am yesterday. The fire was put out by Kirgias before it reached surrounding cars.
Police believe the fire was started deliberately after they found a container of flammable liquid nearby. According to Larnaca police, the car was doused with the liquid and then set alight by the arsonists from a distance of about five metres.
Kirgias has been questioned by police who are investigating the possibility of the attack being sparked by personal differences.
 Young Greens hit the beachesYOUNG environmentalists will hit the beaches today, whatever the weather, in an attempt to set a good example by cleaning them up.
The youth wing of the Cyprus Greens movement has organised clean-up campaigns for Ayios Georgios tou Alamanou beach in Limassol and the beach at Fontana Amarosa in the Akamas.
The clean-up is part of a wider 'Clean Mediterranean' campaign, organised for a fourth year by the Italian environmental group Legabiente.
Similar clean-ups will be conducted simultaneously at more than 300 beaches in at least 16 Mediterranean countries.
The Young Greens claim that "the Mediterranean has been chosen to highlight the reality that the sea that encircles us faces a serious pollution problem which cannot be confined to the waters of specific countries, and which must be solved through organised collective action".
The clean-up crews will meet at 10.30am in Limassol at Ayios Georgios, and in Paphos at 8.45am at Latchi port from where they will be taken to Fontana Amarosa by boat.
Members of the public are more than welcome to join in, the greens say.
 Ormidhia protesters to block road againTHE Dhekelia-Ayia Napa road will be blockaded again today by residents of Ormidhia protesting against government plans to route the Larnaca-Famagusta motorway through their land.
The motorway has been planned for a decade but the start of construction has been postponed three times. A recent cabinet decision to begin construction work foresees that the motorway will be completed by May 2000.
Ormidhia residents are worried that the motorway will eat up their land and they see it as "one more evil" to be added to the list of a nearby base and desalination plant.
They will use their cars to block the road for a second Sunday despite indications that the ministerial decision is final.
A meeting of various Ormidhia community groups decided last week to continue the protests until the government agrees to meet them and hear their concerns about the route of the proposed motorway.
"The reason we are forced to continue this action is because officials refuse to meet us," said a community representative.
 Telethon: helping to find the cureBy Martin Hellicar
WITHOUT contributions from charity drives like Telethon 98, which kicked off across the island yesterday, independent medical research establishments could not work to find cures for rare genetic disorders.
"Governments do not give money for diseases where there are not a lot of patients involved, and drug companies are the same," Pierre Birambeau, organiser of the French Telethon, told the Cyprus Mail in Nicosia yesterday.
He said donations are the only way research bodies like Cyprus's Institute of Neurology and Genetics, the main recipient of Telethon funds, can survive.
Birambeau expressed admiration for the Institute's pioneering genetic therapy work, and said encouraging co-operation between the establishment and similar ones abroad was one of the main reasons for his visit.
"There are about 40 different neurological disorders and 5,000 genetic diseases. We have to make sure there is no doubling-up in research," he said.
Telethon, now in its fourth year in Cyprus, has been a fixture in France for 11 years. Similar events are held in other European countries and across the Atlantic in the US and Canada. The Telethon netted $75 million in France last year, a massive sum compared to the £355,000 collected in Cyprus last time round.
"But Cypriots give more per head than the French," Birambeau pointed out.
Most of the funds go towards muscular dystrophy research, an area of personal interest to Birambeau, who first became interested in fund-raising for medical research after he discovered that his son, now 25, suffered from the debilitating disease.
"Research is needed not only to find a cure, but also to prevent and to relieve the suffering of those affected," he said.
He said the target for Cyprus's three-day Telethon '98 was to top the £1 million mark.
© Copyright Cyprus Mail 1998