THE House Legal committee is determined to press ahead with finalising a bill to protect families’ primary residence “through fire and water”, its head Sotiris Sampson said, placing the bill’s estimated date of submission to a plenary vote around the end of March.
The committee, convened on Wednesday to discuss the bill, was addressed by Finance minister Harris Georgiades through a letter. In it, he informed the committee that the government agreed with the view of the banks’ association and the Central Bank of Cyprus (CBC) that feel that the issue should be viewed as part of a wider bill concerning non-viable borrowers.
The government is preparing the non-viability bill as part of the Troika-imposed adjustment programme.
The committee was told it should expect the submission of the government bill by year’s end.
Nonetheless, most committee members expressed their determination to move the bill to an earlier vote.
Speaking after the committee session, Sampson conceded that the legal issues raised were extremely serious, but said that discussion will continue on Friday morning, aiming for a month-end submission to the plenum.
He went on to thank all stakeholders, whether opposed or voicing serious reservations, for their contribution of various opinions to the discussion, and described the objections raised as “serious and complex, yet manageable.”
The bill under discussion aims to ensure that no family is left homeless due to difficulty in repaying loans as a result of the financial crisis. On the other hand, banks are determined to proceed with the recovery of assets in an effort to reduce their high level of non-performing loans, one of the conditions imposed by the Troika as part of the Cyprus bailout programme.
According to statistics released on Wednesday by the CBC, Cyprus continues to top the Eurozone list of high interest rates on housing loans with 4.65 per cent, despite this being the lowest the country has seen since June 2010. The average interest rate offered in the Eurozone on housing loans is 2.8 per cent.
Sampson reported an effort to rein in the committee’s legislative work, but said that while all opinions are respected, “the committee will protect the family residence through fire and water.”
According to committee member and AKEL MP Yiannos Lamaris, after all other means of repayment have been examined and exhausted, the bill will serve as a last resort to borrowers, allowing them to request a court-mandated repayment freeze for a limited period of time.
Even the Troika, Lamaris said, supports the concept of protecting the family residence.
Meanwhile, several committee members reiterated Sampson’s claim that government services have attempted to further delay the bill, including Lamaris, EDEK MP Nikos Nikolaides, and the Greens’ Yiorgos Perdikis.
“The risk of foreclosure is no longer merely abstract”, Nikolaides said.
“Protection of the primary residence and small-to-medium businesses is the least the state can offer its citizens,” he concluded.