The Independent Anti-Corruption Authority is getting to work

The appointment ceremony of the Transparency Commissioner and the Members of the Independent Anti-Corruption Authority was held today at the Presidential Palace, in the presence of the President of the Republic Mr. Nikos Anastasiadis

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The appointment ceremony of the Transparency Commissioner and the Members of the Independent Anti-Corruption Authority took place today, in the presence of the President of the Republic Mr. Nikos Anastasiadis.

Speaking during the ceremony, President Anastasiades said that "I am proceeding today with the appointment of Mr. Haris Pogiatzis, to the position of Transparency Commissioner, as well as Ms. Tatiana Zachariadou and Ms. Eleni Patera, Mr. Michael Konstantinidis, Mr. Nikos Zambakidis , in place of the Members of the Independent Anti-Corruption Authority.

Mr. Commissioner, Members of the Authority, the decision to appoint you, in addition to academic studies, was made taking into account the recommendations of the Selection Committee and I am glad that the Chairman of the Committee, former President of the Supreme Court, Mr. Aresti and the members of the Commission have made a strict selection out of 15 personalities and thus facilitated my work as considering both your known morals and integrity of character, as well as the absolute conscientiousness, zeal and dedication you have shown while exercising your duties in previous positions you have served.

A guarantee of the utmost importance to the effective performance of the Authority's legally defined mission, which, among other things, concerns:

• The investigation of complaints and information related to acts of corruption in the public sector, wider public sector and private sector.

• The supervision and evaluation of the actions of the services of the wider public sector and the private sector in matters of prevention and combating acts of corruption, based on internationally recognized best practices and standards.

• The drafting of reports with suggestions and proposals for the prevention and fight against acts of corruption to the competent agencies.

• Informing and guiding the private sector regarding the adoption of internationally recognized best practices for preventing and combating crimes.

• Defining the risk assessment indicators related to acts of corruption.

• The preparation of studies and the issuance of circulars for information and training purposes.

Fully aware that the phenomenon of corruption is unfortunately the strongest blow to the foundations of Democracy and the Rule of Law, we prioritized the creation of an integrated framework to prevent, protect and combat the phenomenon.

Taking into account the reports of the European Commission, the recommendations of International Organizations, as well as the best practices at the international level, we proceeded to update and introduce the National Horizontal Action Plan against Corruption.

The National Plan includes a series of 52 actions that provide for the creation of strong institutions to prevent corruption phenomena, which are based on three main pillars:

First: Prevention, education and awareness.

Second: Legislative measures.

Third: Supervision and risk assessment.

As the main policy actions that we have implemented so far, I would like to mention:

• The adoption and implementation of a National Strategy against Corruption.

• The full staffing and training of all the Internal Audit Units of the Ministries / Deputy Ministries.

• The establishment of the Economic Crime Prosecution Sub-Directorate of the Police Headquarters, which is staffed by scientifically qualified and specialized personnel for the investigation of serious cases of a financial nature.

• The establishment of the Anti-Corruption Unit as the specialized mechanism par excellence for investigating and prosecuting corruption offences, led by the General and Assistant Attorney General of the Republic, with the participation of competent Services.

• Strengthening the possibility of the Authorities, through legislation, to recover the benefits obtained from illegal activities, by seizing or confiscating assets.

As the most important and the first institutional defense of the state and society against corruption phenomena, the approval of the strong legislative framework for the establishment and operation of an Independent Authority against corruption, the protection of public interest witnesses, Transparency in Public Decision-Making Procedures and regulation is recognized of lobbying.

I would like to take this opportunity to sincerely thank all the political forces, because thanks to the joint cooperation it was possible to adopt and institutionalize measures so that we can be effective and not stick to the words that the knife will reach the bone, that there will not be any tolerances regarding the commission of offences. There are now specific pieces of legislation that define the important role you play in implementing decisions.

At the same time, other important actions have been launched such as, among others:

• The creation of a Register of Beneficial Companies and other legal entities. I am referring to the shell companies, a scourge that has unfortunately stigmatized the country for decades as a money laundering country.

• Institutionalizing the mandatory internal mobility of human resources in the various Services of the public sector, with a rotation in the positions of responsibility at reasonable intervals, so as to prevent the risk of the development of entanglement and corruption phenomena.

• The promotion of an Incentive Scheme in the public, broader public and private sectors for the implementation of a recognized standard against bribery and corruption

• Continuous education and training with specialized training programs for the officers and managers of the public and wider public sector.

• The inclusion of training and educational programs at all levels of education in order to raise awareness in the prevention and fight against corruption.

What I have mentioned is only part of the policy we adopt.

And, I want to welcome the fact that the planning of the policy, as well as the drafting and passing of the relevant bills, is the result of a collective effort of all those involved, in the context of a dialogue conducted in a climate of consensus and goodwill. A dialogue that determinedly established as necessary, out of all, the institutionalization of some rules to combat corruption.

The most important thing, in terms of the goal of fighting corruption, is that our planning for the Rule of Law through the "Cyprus-to-Tomorrow" Plan and the other policies we follow, is not only about continuing but also strengthening existing successful policies that we apply.

In this context, in addition to financing the establishment and operation of the Independent Anti-Corruption Authority with an amount of 4 million 760 thousand euros, we have included additional actions in the Plan. Actions in excess of 3 million euros, related to the improvement of the legislative and institutional framework to fight corruption.

As I have mentioned repeatedly and I am very straightforward, very honest and I have no problem repeating it today as well, that we recognize the mistakes, gaps and weaknesses that existed, which were fatally abused by some people as a result of which our country was unfortunately exposed.

Errors and omissions which we have publicly acknowledged, and which we have had the courage and determination to correct.

Having said that, in none of the cases does it negate the huge progress and improvements that Cyprus has made, both in the anti-corruption indicators, but also in the legal framework and law enforcement in terms of combating the phenomenon. A fact that is recognized by the European institutions and International Supervisory Organizations, through specific references in their reports.

1. In the latest report of the European Commission on the Rule of Law, which was issued in October 2020, it is recorded verbatim "...that for the first time 37 persons have been convicted in 26 cases". Always talking about politicians or otherwise exposed persons.

2. Moneyvall's positive assessment of the real progress made by our country in the fight against money laundering.

3. The statement, in April 2019, of the US Undersecretary of the Treasury and the political heads of the US Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN): "Cyprus has made tremendous progress and improvements in the legal framework as well as in law enforcement."

4. The statement, in August 2019, by the Chairman of the Financial Services Committee of the US House that with the progress Cyprus has made, it is now able to face the challenges in the field of preventing money laundering.

Mr. Pogiatzi, Mr. Zambakidis, Ms. Zachariadou, Mr. Konstantinidis, Ms. Patera,

Taking into account what I have mentioned, your appointment, in addition to the highest honor, also entails a feeling of the highest responsibility.

In this context, justifying the expectations on which your selection was based, I call on you in the performance of your duties to work with determination showing zero tolerance towards any actions wherever and however they come from. And now it is not me who says that I do not tolerate but I transfer the burden to you.

Acting with absolute consistency and in good cooperation with the competent bodies involved, I am sure that you will defend the preservation of the independence and impartiality of the institution, while at the same time promoting its prestige and credibility.

I assure you that the State will help to staff the Service and be effective and efficient in the work it undertakes. I congratulate you because you became members of the selection team, always evaluating with strict criteria, knowing your character and performance as well."

For his part, the Commissioner of Transparency, speaking on behalf of everyone, said that "the just now given, in front of you, legalized Assurance, also marks the start of the operation of the Independent Anti-Corruption Authority.

We consider it a great honor that we, the 5 Members of the Authority, were entrusted with the implementation of this new legislation (L.19(I)/2022 and 20(I)/2022), which entered into force on March 4, 2022 and which provides for the establishment and operation of the Independent Anti-Corruption Authority. On the other hand, we assure you that we are fully aware of the very difficult task we have undertaken, as well as the many demands that civil society has of us.

Simultaneously with the announcement of the names of the Members on May 3, 2022 and, since the Authority had not yet been surrounded with the powers provided by the Law, which happened today, the Minister of Justice and Public Order undertook the difficult task of creating the necessary infrastructure to enable the Authority to function as soon as possible.

The actions were personally supervised by the General Director of the Ministry, Mr. Louis Panagi, assisted by a small, but capable, team of Ministry Officers. We have to emphasize that, due to the immediate and effective interventions of Mr. Panagis, many problems were resolved and thus it became possible, in a short period of time, for the Authority to have its own accommodation and infrastructure, so that it could begin to carry out the project her. As a last, but very important step, we must point out the recent unanimous vote by the Parliament of the Authority's first Budget.

All of the above shows the importance that all State institutions attach to the Independent Anti-Corruption Authority. This fact increases even more the burden and responsibility with which we feel that we have been shouldered.

By virtue of the relevant legislation, the Authority is surrounded with several powers and many responsibilities. These revolve around 2 main axes: the suppression and prevention of acts of corruption. It has the right, either ex officio to examine such matters or after a relevant complaint. And the field of research can be extended, beyond the public sector, to the wider public sector and even, under certain conditions, to the private sector.

In order to achieve the above objectives, cooperation with both the Attorney General of the Republic and the Auditor General is required, which cooperation, apart from what is provided for by the legislation, will be one of our primary aims and objectives.

We fully understand that it is very difficult within a short period of time to overturn some bad attitudes and "cultures" that have found fertile ground and been cultivated since the establishment of the Republic of Cyprus in 1960, perhaps even earlier. We also realize that we are living in a period of suspicion and questioning of almost all institutions by a large part of civil society.

Therefore, at present, we will not speak big words, nor promise much. The way we will act as an Authority, we will develop collectively among ourselves but also in cooperation with the other competent bodies, with a lot of effort and coordination and we hope that, over time, the best possible and most efficient functioning of the Authority will be achieved.

However, what we believe we can achieve in a relatively short period of time is to become the "vigilant eye", which will monitor behaviors and actions that may fall within the scope of our competences and, based on the powers that the Law provides us, to intervene and warn about the possibility of corruption. In case of non-compliance, the Authority should conduct an investigation.

This will hopefully act as a deterrent to some who in the past have acted arbitrarily, without any control. In this way, we will try to convince that something changes now in Cyprus in the way of dealing with corruption issues. And these efforts of ours, we hope, will convince, to the greatest extent possible, both the citizens in Cyprus and the international bodies which are known to monitor the course of things with a critical attitude.

Having mentioned the above, we again appeal to the civil society from which we ask to show a little more patience. We are doing this because, since May 3, 2022, when our names were announced as the proposed Members of the Authority, all of us personally felt the impatience possessed by the citizens for the operation of the Authority. From the day after the announcement, citizens tried to contact us, either at our workplaces or at our personal telephone numbers and e-mail addresses, with the aim of submitting complaints, complaints or addressing the Authority in any way. We explained, of course, that the Authority had not yet started its operation.

From today, however, when it begins its operation, we should explain that again the Authority will still need some time to be able to receive complaints. This is because according to the provisions of the Law (Article 28), Regulations must first be prepared that will govern its operation. Regulations that will have to be approved by both the Council of Ministers and the House of Representatives. We are sure that, with the contribution of all of us, it will be done as soon as possible and the Regulations, which will be clear, will provide all the required information and details, including the procedure for submitting and evaluating complaints. Already, from what I have been informed by the Minister of Justice, there is a standard regulation which will be formulated accordingly.

A final point which we wish to emphasize is that any person applying to the Authority with any request will immediately receive notification that their request has been received. The examination of his request will be done within the framework of the legislation regarding personal data. However, within the framework of transparency, he will be provided with information on the progress of the investigation. If his request will be rejected or forwarded for further investigation, he will be informed immediately, with the reasons recorded and, in conditions of transparency. After all, it is no coincidence that the person who heads the Authority bears the title of Transparency Commissioner".