By Christos Meliopoulos – Nicosia
The police force in Cyprus is to become a powerful weapon in the government’s arsenal in the fight against corruption. The minister in charge, Ionas Nicolaou(photo), has made public his intention to create a special anti-corruption unit with the aim of striking down on officials in the state and the wider public arena accepting bribes or implementing other morally questionable or illegal practices where they are supposed to serve the public’s interest.
As a Justice Minister who also holds the Public Order portfolio Mr Nicolaou does theoretically have the chance to rid of the those elements in public life poisoning trust between the state and the citizen. In a small island like Cyprus corruption cannot be hidden for ever and that’s an additional reason for the authorities to be extra alert; lack of proper and strict punishment can easily be perceived as connivance.
The police force however would have to deal with its own faults and lack of controls first. While it boasts a number of highly qualified and experienced officers within its ranks, it is telling of the mixed picture Cypriots have about their police that in a survey published just before the island found itself embroiled in the current economic crisis, 90% of the participants attributed widespread corruption to the force. Even more impressively high were the respective percentages for government officials and state employees dealing with public works contractors.
In a small island the relationship between people and the police needs to be one of even stronger mutual respect. As it usually happens, the destruction of one institution’s credibility, as is the case with politicians and bankers, also mars the rest of a society’s reference points. Accusations against corrupt policemen aggravate this danger, while a perception by some that promotions and choices in the police are dependant on the political party in power can easily spread to a small and closely knitted society such as the Cypriot one.
In this suspicious atmosphere it is just a shame that the good work done is often overlooked. In its attempt to get modernised and keep up with more developed countries in Europe, Mr Nicolaou has revealed that he is picking the Britons’ brain on overhauling the structure and function of the force.
There seem to be some initial results from the cooperation with the British even before the latest round of consultancy. A junior officer in Nicosia has praised the close coordination between Cypriot and British police on a recent operation to foil a stolen cars ring. This can easily be extended. There are officials pointing to regional police forces in Britain expressing willingness to assist any national authority with tackling football hooliganism, as they did in Greece. It is a serious matter for the handling of which the police in Cyprus has often been criticised.
One needs to learn form the best, but when it comes to policing nothing beats a good level of trust between the police and the people, a trust undermined by unpunished corruption at all levels. Being a most vocal critic when in opposition, Mr Nicolaou has the opportunity to usher the force into a new era of increased effectiveness and credibility.