THE election campaign slogan of newly elected President Demitris Christofias for a “just society” passes mainly through his Ministry, given the fact that the majority of the laws which regulate internal administration has to do with issues the Minister of Interior deals with.
Neoklis Sylikiotis returns to the “Ministry of the Citizen”, as he calls the Interior Ministry, under the Presidency of Demetris Christofias, something that gives him the opportunity and the time to finish the work he started some years ago, as he says, in combination with a new government programme, aiming to put a human face to politics.
In an interview with CNA (Cyprus News Agency), he declares his dedication to put a halt to rising house prices, places at the top of his priority list activities which express the social policy of the new government with housing programs for the support of refugees, low income families and young couples.
“Our responsibility is to take all necessary measures to carry through the election programme of President Christofias. It is a contract of honour signed between the President with the people and our intention is to fully implement it. We have already started planning, priorities and specific deadlines will be set,” the Minister said.
He plans to promote institutional changes with regard to decentralisation, to the citizens’ participation, decisions on town planning and certain attitudes that need to be changed.
“We will focus on those aspects, which will express the new government social policy, such as housing programs,” he said and added: “We will give more responsibility and therefore more financial support and bring the administration closer to the citizens, because it is the citizens who know first hand what is needed to improve their lives,” he explained.
The new Minister believes in the importance of the role of local government and intends to give more responsibilities and more financial aid to the “administration which is closer to the citizen”.
He says he will continue with efforts to simplify procedures, speed up planning decisions, safeguard public participation, fairness and transparency and assures the Turkish Cypriots that they are subjected to the same difficulties their Greek Cypriot compatriots face when it comes to bureaucracy.
“The situation has improved a great deal. At this moment we employ Turkish Cypriots. There is a fair service as regards procedures to issue IDs and other documents. But of course there some attitudes which we must deal with and you cannot change them overnight. I also get complaints but I can assure you that the Turkish Cypriots face the same problems as the Greek Cypriots and that is the truth.”
As regards the property issue, he stresses that the institution of the Guardian of Turkish Cypriot properties will and must continue to exist as long as the Turkish occupation of the island’s northern areas continues. He admits that after the island’s accession to the European Union in May 2004 there is increased interest from the Turkish Cypriots to obtain their properties in the southern government controlled part of Cyprus.
“There is no sign today that the institution of the Guardian of the Turkish Cypriot properties is threatened. We face this issue politically, which means that as long as the Turkish occupation continues, the Guardian cannot cease to exist, because through the administration of the Turkish Cypriot properties, this institution serves the interests of the refugees and also protects the rights of the legal owners, who are the Turkish Cypriots,” Minister Sylikiotis told CNA.
Asked if there is any sign that the number of Turkish Cypriot claiming back their property in the government controlled areas will increase, he said that this issue is very much connected with the Cyprus problem and noted: “Yes there is an increasing interest from the Turkish Cypriots since the day Cyprus entered the EU.”
He explained that “in 2006 the Cabinet decided that if a property of more than CYP200,000 or EUR 341,700 is sold, the issue will be dealt at the Cabinet level and not the Guardian. However, I would like to note that the percentage of Turkish Cypriot land being sold is very small”.
Sylikiotis expresses support to the refugees and calls on them to ignore all those who ask them to abandon a Turkish Cypriot property, allocated to them by the government after the 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus, because it has been sold. Furthermore, he announces the intention to increase the subsidy for the purchase of housing by the refugees and solve problems of children whose mother is a refugee.
As regards foreign immigrants, the new Minister points out that their human rights must be respected and notes his intension to combat illegal immigration, starting from existing bureaucratic procedures.
“As a first step we have to see immigration as a collective process, we need an immigration policy, which will be based on EU directives and will have a humanitarian approach. Illegal immigration has specific causes. Cyprus is at the southeastern edge of Europe, bordering an area with political and economic instability and therefore we have an influx of immigrants, mainly from African countries. It is a situation which is faced by many other European countries, such as Malta, Italy and Spain”, Sylikiotis noted.
At the same time he warns employers who employ illegal immigrants that things will get tougher for them, and intends to ban the so-called “artist visa”, as part of efforts to combat human trafficking.
On the development of Akamas peninsula, on the northwest of the island, he assures that the pre-election commitments will be realised, adding that not a single Aeolic Park will be created if the communities do not agree first. He says he will seek other sources of renewable energy making use of the abundance of sun on the island.
Referring to sudden changes in housing planning zones, which led to big increases in house prices, the Interior Minister promises institutional changes which will bring transparency and citizen participation as well as solutions to the problem of delays in the issue of titles deeds.
The Minister presented “Island of Cyprus”, a plan showing the whole of Cyprus in zones, with the creation of peripheral councils and increased administration by local authorities.
The Interior Minister announced that he plans to modernise the electoral Law as part of government efforts to consolidate “consensus.”
With an eighteen-hour working day, the Minister assures that he has started work from the moment he assumed office with only one objective: to improve the quality of life of the Cypriot citizens.
As he told CNA he works hard because he is one of those people who believe that “a lot can be done.”
Cyprus Financial Mirror