Opening Statement by the President of the Republic, Mr. Demetris Christofias, at the Press Conference on the completion of the first year of administration
Nicosia, Mar 6 – “Upon completion of the first year of our administration, we are addressing society in order to review and assess the course of the materialization of the government program.
Our program constitutes the leading light and the compass of our administration. It is the constant point of reference, always. The government program binds us to work towards achieving a just solution to the Cyprus problem and for a more just society.
Certainly it is impossible at a Press Conference to cover all aspects, as well as everything that has been done by the Government during this first year. In my opening statement I will refer only to the fundamental issues of the multifaceted and plentiful work that has been carried out. Aided by your questions, dear friends, I hope that we will be able to cover as many issues as time allows. In the following weeks, the Ministers will give separate Press conferences so as to inform society about the remarkable work that has been carried out by each Ministry.
At this point, I would like to emphasize that the Council of Ministers works collectively. It is of one mind and guided exclusively by the Administration Program. I would also like to publicly and warmly thank all the Ministers, the Government Spokesman, the Under Secretary to the President, the Presidential Commissioner, the Director of the President's Office for their arduous work every day in order to fulfill our commitments towards the people.
I would also like to thank the Public Service Officers who work conscientiously for the materialization of the government program.
The government program is for five years, not only for one year. I feel the need to stress this because sometimes we are criticized for not having fulfilled all the goals announced in our program as if everything can be done from the first year.
In our view, the first year of administration has been successful. It is a year which has been full of works, measures and actions which clearly highlight the nature of our governance, which is people-friendly and people-centered. Our governance is characterized by a high sense of responsibility and determination to implement the very ambitious goals that lie ahead of us for a just solution and a more just society.
The Cyprus Problem
Regarding the Cyprus problem and our aim for a just solution, the Administration Program states that 'it is imperative for the Greek Cypriot side to take the lead concerning actions... A flexible and sincere policy will enable us either to overcome the current deadlocks or - if Turkey fails to change her attitude - to expose her intransigence'.
And because I hear statements to the effect that we have promised that there will be a solution to the Cyprus problem at any cost while the second part of this statement is being ignored i.e. that if Turkey does not change her stance we have to expose her responsibilities for her intransigent policy, I would like to stress this. Our aim is the solution of the Cyprus problem but we often say that the key to a solution is Turkey. Right from the start we have not said to our people that there will be a solution to the Cyprus problem at any cost. There will be a solution if Turkey shows understanding and changes her policy and stance.
Right after the assumption of the Presidency, we undertook initiatives to reach the goal for a just, viable and functional solution to the Cyprus problem. A solution which will end the occupation and the illegal colonization and reunite the country, the people, the economy and the institutions in the framework of a bizonal, bicommunal federation with political equality, as described in the relevant resolutions of the United Nations Organization. A solution for a federal state with a single sovereignty, citizenship and international personality, one which guarantees the human rights and fundamental freedoms of the entire population, Greek Cypriots, Turkish Cypriots, Maronites, Armenians and Latins.
Our policy concerning the Cyprus problem aims at mobilizing all parties who can play a part in domestic and international affairs to work collectively for the comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus problem.
The immediate goals for implementing our comprehensive strategy for a solution are:
Firstly, to put an end to the stalemate and the deadlocks which serve the policy of partition.
What has been the outcome? The stalemate and the deadlocks have ceased to exist. There has been new mobility and the two communities have resumed direct negotiations after a long time.
Secondly, to reaffirm the basis for the solution and to resume negotiations between the two Cypriot communities.
Outcome: The basis for the solution of the Cyprus Problem has been reaffirmed. It is the bizonal, bicommunal federation with political equality as described in the relevant resolutions of the United Nations Organization, for a state with a single sovereignty, citizenship and one international personality. As a result, direct negotiations are taking place on a clearly defined basis. This is the basis for the negotiations. This is Mr. Talat's commitment in the talks, regardless of what Turkey's National Security Council says. If he deviates from this, then there will be no solution.
Thirdly, to urge the international community to move in Turkey's direction so that Turkey co-operates for a solution in the best interest of the Cypriot people. We believe that the EU can play a special role in this for, in light of Turkey's accession course, the EU can play an important role in the efforts to alter the Turkish policy.
Outcome: The revitalization of interest of the international community expressed by explicit statements to the effect that it supports the process as well as the efforts to solve the Cyprus problem. The international community credits the Greek-Cypriot side with honesty and the goodwill to achieve a solution, a fact which enhances our credibility and the persuasiveness of our views.
It is accepted that the ownership of the negotiation process is Cypriot and does not require either strict deadlines or arbitration.
Our continuous efforts and contacts so that a special role is undertaken by the EU are producing results. The establishment of a supervision committee for the Cyprus problem, under the President of the European Commission, Mr. Barroso, is a result of these efforts. The EU now holds the view that in her accession course Turkey must fulfill all obligations she has undertaken vis-à-vis the Union and the Republic of Cyprus and co-operate for a solution which serves the best interests of the Cypriots. This is a position expressed in EU documents. And a position expressed by President Barroso before the Turkish National Assembly and recently repeated by Commissioner Oli Rehn.
We have developed our relations with the President of the European Parliament as well as all the groups of the same Body.
The Republic of Cyprus has got out of the corner where she had been placed by certain circles after the 2004 referenda. The initiative now lies in the hands of the Republic of Cyprus.
Irrespective of whatever hardships we may encounter in the negotiations, and we are indeed faced with difficulties during the negotiations, we are determined to continue the negotiations to the end. We will always base ourselves on the principles of International and European Law, but at the same time will show the necessary flexibility in order to achieve a solution which will lead to the withdrawal of the Turkish troops and the termination of the illegal colonization. A solution, as I have already said, which safeguards the human rights and fundamental freedoms of our entire people, Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots alike.
With equal ardency and devotion we will keep mobilizing the international front so that the international community and the United Nations Organization, on the basis of whose resolutions we seek a solution, place the Cyprus problem at the top of their agenda.
I would like to note that the missing persons, the verification of their fate and the circumstances under which they disappeared are always in our thoughts and actions irrespective of the course of the talks.
Of great importance for the success of our efforts for a solution is the unity and the consent of our domestic front.
To achieve unity, the President of the Republic often briefs the political leadership of the country either in the framework of the National Council or in tête-à-tête meetings with the leaders of the parties, with whom all this time he has had many and long meetings. And, as you know, the President of the Republic is very reserved about these public statements.
During the year which we are reviewing the National Council met seven times. During those meetings the political leadership was thoroughly briefed and they exchanged views. For the better functioning of the National Council a special meeting took place during which the framework of its function was codified. The National Council will convene again soon, on the 10th of this month, to discuss documents that have been submitted, that is for the evaluation of the talks as regards governance. These are the documents that, unfortunately, some members of the National Council have openly judged and publicized. I say "unfortunately" and you know what I mean by this. I am not referring to the media nor the journalists who have managed to get the documents. They are just doing their job. Of course, some members of the National Council are also doing the job of the media.
I am sorry to say that I am not well pleased by the level of unity in our domestic front.
International Relations and European Union
Our Government is developing a multilateral and multifaceted foreign policy. As an active member of the European Union we strengthen our relations with third counties, based on international law and mutual benefit, in order for Cyprus to function as a bridge of cooperation between EU and third countries. And this is being put into practice.
As important moments in the development of the international relations of the Cyprus Republic one can cite the visits to the United Kingdom and to the Russian Federation and the signing of the Protocol of Understanding and of the Joint Statement, respectively, with these countries.
We believe that the 22 visits that we made to other countries have produced results for our country.
My visit to the People's Republic of China, my presence at and speech to the General Assembly of the United Nations and the meetings I had in that framework with Presidents and Prime Ministers of 15 countries were important. Important was also my participation in several High Level Conferences that the European Union organized with countries of Latin America and Asia. I also stress my visit to Strasbourg and my speech before the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe as well as my many contacts with the leadership of the Assembly and with the President and the members of the European Court of Human Rights.
I would like to note with satisfaction that our relations with the Greek Government, with the President of the Republic, the Prime Minister and the political leadership of the country have been strengthened even more and are excellent.
Our active participation in European affairs and our contribution to the formulation of policies and programs elevate the status of our country. This status, together with the responsibility and the substantive claim, as well as the relations of friendship that we have developed with European leaders such as the President of the European Commission Mr. Barrosso, the French President Mr. Sarkozy, the President of the European Parliament Mr. Poettering and the Presidents of the various groups in the Parliament had positive results for our country:
• We drew aid from the Solidarity Fund of the European Union up to 7.6 million euro, to combat the drought.
• We claimed aid of many hundreds of million euros from the European Union with good conditions for the creation of infrastructure to combat the drought problem.
• We were allowed to pay compensations from the State Funds to farmers to face the drought consequences.
• We managed to be exempted from the cultivation of genetically modified plants in Cyprus.
The realization of our ambitious goal to create a more just society is based on an essential prerequisite. This is the existence of a strong and healthy economy that would have the ability to serve the reasonable needs of the citizens in the framework of a developed social state. The vulnerable groups of population, which have immediate need of state support, are the priority of this Government.
The first year of our administration was accompanied by a series of objective, external problems and unfortunate incidents of unprecedented extent and intensity, which made it more difficult to achieve the goal for the expansion of the social state.
The greatest problem that we have to face at this time, that people have to face, that the international community has to face, and we are not separate or isolated from the international community, is the international economic crisis which is wide and deep. Even if the Cyprus economy is expected to be affected to a smaller extent in comparison with other member states of the Union, the Government did not content itself but effectively and in a timely fashion took measures, giving important funds to prevent and to face the possible consequences. It is enough to mention that the two economic packets that we have announced and are implementing for this purpose are up to 470 million euros.
In addition, we will draw 300 million euros from the European Investment Bank to lend to medium-size enterprises, with very favorable terms.
This set of measures aims to strengthen the construction sector, through the biggest possible materialization of the Development Budget of the State. It also provides for the expedition of the completion of big and small development works and the granting of additional funds, other than those in budgets, to Municipalities and communities for the construction of local works. In addition, we are fighting hard so that the administrative measures and procedures are simplified in order to combat red tape.
Concerning these matters many things have already been done and the efforts are at this moment at their higher level. The programs are materialized and for the construction sector works are already promoted up to € 640 million in all districts. These works concern public buildings, roads, water and town planning, community and other projects.
The set of measures in order to combat the consequences of the economic crisis is strengthening tourism. Measures as, inter allia, the increase of state grant to the Cyprus Tourism Organization, other of the grant which is provided by the Budget, the abolition of the overnight fees, the reduction of the landing fees, the reduction of Vat from 8% to 5% for hotels etc.
Apart from those amounts we gave 70 million euros in compensations to the farmers who face the consequences of the drought and, additionally, we spent about 50 million euros to transfer water from Greece.
The transfer of water from Greece was really essential in order for Cyprus not to come to the point of running out of water altogether. For the freeing of Cyprus from dependence on weather conditions in connection with the water-supply and in order not to relive the difficult period and the agony of last summer we have already started the materialization of specific programs of creation of new desalination plants.
Our economic indices during 2008, despite the external problems, are very positive. The growth rate reached the 3.7%, while other countries are "sinking", the inflation was limited to 4,4%, the unemployment remained to low levels at 4%, the fiscal equation showed excess of 1% of the GDP, also the public debt was reduced to 49,3% of GDP (from 59,4% in 2007). And I must say that EU countries have passed the 60% mark.
Economic development constitutes the best way to ensure social prosperity. This Government, however, does not stop at good performances in relation only to numbers but it has taken actual measures aimed at reinforcing the social state. For instance: (I will refer to some and there are more, which I will not mention)
• We increased public aid by 12%. This is the biggest rise of the last five years. (66 million euros)
• We gave an Easter allowance for the first time to all pensioners and recipients of social pension. (30 million euros)
• We raised the Easter allowance for public aid recipients by 46%.
• We raised substantially the limit of minimum wage, which is now at 50% of the average wage. The list of professions covered by the decree on minimum wage is expanded and we are continuing our research and examination of this issue.
• We qualitatively upgraded state student aid by adopting a generous comprehensive package of five measures which cover students of both public and private universities in Cyprus. (12 million euros)
And because it has been said and written that this is a pre-election measure due to students' elections ahead, I would like to say that this measure was part of our program and I had announced it in January before the Cyprus Federation of Student Unions. The Ministry of Education submitted the bill only recently. At first the bill was about state universities and we sent it back to include private universities as well. This is why it has only now been approved by the Council of Ministers. What if there are elections ahead? One must not take measures in pre-election periods? Do you mean to say that students or other citizens, although they have the opportunity to benefit from progressive social measures, must be told that they cannot benefit from these measures because there are elections ahead? I repeat. This measure has not been taken because there are elections ahead. The reason is that the Government has been true to its word, despite the world economic crisis.
• We reinforced the programs of the Cyprus Institute of State Scholarships.
• We expanded the institution of free transportation of pupils. (10 million euros)
• We launched the institution of subsidizing the purchase of a laptop for the pupils of the second grade of Gymnasium. (4 million euros)
• We reduced consumption tax for heating oil. (10 million euros)This decrease resulted in a 10 million euro decrease in revenue.
• We granted an allowance to the residents of mountainous areas. (5 million euros)
• We augmented the income of our enclaved pensioners by terminating the unacceptable practice of deducting public aid when they retire or when they are employed.
• We set up a specialized Department at the Ministry of Labor for people with disabilities and an allowance nursing scheme for paraplegics was incorporated.
• We expanded free medical care to three-child families. And more measures will be taken for these families in due course, as it is planned in our administration program.
• We significantly reduced the waiting time for patients by implementing a program of overtime employment of hospitals. And when there are statements, there should be more responsibility, because last night I heard a statement that heart patients died while waiting. This of course was denied by Mr. Kaousianis. I would like to deny it, too. There has been great progress. If you compare countries, because many people make claims regarding European countries many times, compare how many are the lists in the big European countries and how long these lists are for such matters and then we can talk. We have taken really big steps in this sector. This is not to say that there is no room for improvement. Of course there is room for further improvement and we are constantly dealing with this issue.
• We upgraded the scheme of subsidizing and sending patients to medical centers in Cyprus and abroad. (36 million euros)
Special emphasis was given to housing programs by extensively reviewing, reinforcing and modernizing the state housing policy. Among other things:
• For the first time since 1994 we put up new housing units in government housing estates. In total, 860 new housing units are being built.
• We expanded the program for the reconstruction and fundamental repair of government housing estates.
• We accelerated and increased the separation of plots on state land for the self-housing of displaced persons and for low-income families.
• We earmarked a grant of 200 million euro for the provision of low rate loans to families with an annual income of up to 40 thousand euros that wish to acquire a first residence. And the criticism exerted is being dealt, I think, with life itself. Thirty thousand applications have already been handed in, immediate measures have been taken, people are going to get their loans and start building their houses and these people are not great developers, they are common people. And the handing in of applications is continued.
• We significantly increased state funding and loans given with a low subsidized interest rate and we expanded the criteria for admission to supplementary housing schemes.
• We expanded the criteria and increased funding for housing assistance to displaced persons. The funding has been doubled, I think.
• We promoted the strengthening of cooperation and coordination between the Land Development Corporation and the Housing Finance Corporation, with the aim of expanding housing schemes and programs.
• We accelerated the procedure of issuing title deeds to displaced persons for housing units.
In the second year of administration, the social program will not only be continued, but it will be reinforced. We merely mention that in 2008 social grants reached 816 million euros, while the budget for 2009 foresees expenses amounting to 1.040 million euros, an increase of 27,4% and the biggest increase of the last years. This percentage will be higher as ad hoc social expenses will be added. For example, the 12 million for the students, or what the families with many children call a 13th salary, both of which are measures not included in the 2009 Budget, and I may refer to other examples if needed.
The developmental part of the budget for the current year is similarly ambitious. Developmental expenses for 2009 are budgeted at €1.090 million, in comparison to €948 million in 2008 – thus recording an upsurge of 15% - and include more than thirty significant development projects.
More specifically, there is a plan for, inter alia, launching a significant number of new projects such as construction/refurbishing of various government buildings, extension of public hospitals, installation of photovoltaic and air-conditioning systems in public buildings, hygienic waste burial sites, green areas, environment restoration, the Culture Building, the State Theatre building, the Polis-Pafos road and expansion and improvement of the road network in general.
The budget for 2009, beyond its evident social and developmental character, supports entrepreneurship and reinforces cooperation between the public, co-op and private sector, which offered in the past, now offers and can still offer a great deal to a strong and robust economy.
Drastic changes in society
A constituent element in the construction of a fairer society is the implementation of drastic changes in society through establishing long-term policies and making reforms which will qualitatively upgrade it and open new horizons for our country.
A key element in this effort is the Educational Reform, which aspires not simply to heal the wounds of our educational system (illegal private lessons and school failure), but also to transform our schools into places that promote human values and ideals, encourage critical thought, cultivate dexterities, abilities and talents and offer knowledge from all scientific spectra.
Regarding the Educational Reform, we are proceeding with intense rhythms and have already reached the stage of modifying the content of the analytical programs, through the appointment of twenty committees made up of prominent scientists.
In parallel to this process, we have made progress in the process of completing the tertiary public education with the decision to establish a Medical School and a Fine Arts School. At this point I would like to make an intervention which I consider very important. Because the Minister of Education has been receiving ruthless attacks on a daily basis which are targeted on himself, but in my opinion also on the Educational Reform itself, I would like to express my absolute confidence in the Minister, in his work and in the Ministry’s work.
A drastic change for society is to safeguard the durability of the Social Insurance Fund, until at least the year 2048. The Government, though an intense dialogue, has reached an agreement with the social partners for the necessary changes that need to be done so that the level of social pensions and all the benefits can be safeguarded, a reserve can be created and a prudent investment policy with the collective handling of the social partners can be followed. I would like to congratulate the Minister of Labor and her predecessor for the hard work they performed – through scores of meetings with the social partners – in order to get the bill adopted, to thank her and of course to thank the majority of the members of the House of Representatives because yesterday they worked consensually and passed the bill.
A drastic change for society is the promotion of processes for the modernization of the Local Authorities in Cyprus, so that they can respond to modern demands and offer effective service to citizens.
A drastic change for society is the implementation of a policy for the creation of a broad public communications system in the Government controlled areas of Cyprus, which will solve the serious circulation problems in urban areas and drastically support the Government’s efforts of revitalizing the countryside. This policy has positive effects on the protection of the environment and reduces the energy cost.
We have decisively set the basis of changing the energy environment in Cyprus, through decisions and the creation of an energy centre at Vassiliko, the establishment of the Public Gas Corporation (DEFA), and the storage, processing and use of natural gas. The establishment of an Energy Policy Council for the formulation of a comprehensive energy policy is also under study.
For the upgrading of the cultural sector, nowadays an important sector of society, a proposal will be submitted in the next few days for the setting up of a Unified Cultural Authority, which will have the responsibility of establishing and coordinating the state’s policy on culture.
We are also proceeding with steadfastness and commitment in the implementation of the General Health Plan.
As already mentioned, we have made progress in the resolution of the problem of irrigation with the implementation of a comprehensive water policy. Soon, the proposal for the creation of a Unified Water Agency is expected to be completed, if constitutional problems are overcome.
It is obvious that the Government with determination, efficiency and consistency is implementing its program for a fair society. In the course of modernizing the society and strengthening the social state, cooperation is essential with the legislative power, the political parties, the local authorities, organized groups and civil society.
We are pursuing and we are looking forward to this cooperation. We are pursuing and we are conducting a dialogue on big as well as on small issues. Experience proves that where there is a constructive disposition and a constructive dialogue, there is a result. Where there are ulterior motives, there are problems and obstacles.
I want to thank the House of Representatives, the political parties, the organized groups and all those who with their constructive stance help in the implementation of the Modernization Programme of our society.
Mostly and above all I want to thank you, the citizens, the people, for the support of myself and my government.
With the strength we draw from you, the people, we advance our country and our society.