Daily News Review - 7/01/2019

ΠΟΛΙΤΗΣ NEWS Δημοσιεύθηκε 7.1.2019
Daily News Review  - 7/01/2019
«Whistleblowers» are individuals who reveal information about unlawful activities that contain the element of abuse of power within an organization

In the press:

Refugee… Courts

The chairman of the Supreme Court, Myronas Nikolatos told Haravgi newspaper that the Appellate Court and the Commercial Court will be housed in Philoxenia conference centre, while the Administrative Court will be housed in the building of the old Supreme Court. The newspaper reports that following a Cabinet decision on 18 December, the building of former car rental company Astra will house the International Protection Administrative Court. The building, which is close to the Pedieos bridge, will be bought (rather than rented as it was initially announced) from its owner, Hellenic Bank, for around €3.300.000. Haravgi notes, that before Hellenic Bank gained ownership of the building, it was owned by businessman who was a candidate MP for DISY. The article goes on to say that the decision by the Cabinet to buy the building creates questions, especially since it came only a month after the approval of a €200.000 budget line for the building’s temporary rental.

Astrobank: UsbBank acquisition a matter of days

Phileleftheros Insider reports that the acquisition of UsbBank by Astrobank is now a matter of days, since all necessary permits by the supervisory authorities have been obtained, while all the relevant procedures were completed. The Bank’s total assets now exceed €2.1b, increasing the size and the capabilities of the bank. The newspaper reports that Cosntantinos Loizides will once again have Executive role in Astrobank, as he was assigned in the position of president of the Executive Committee.

Inflation up 1.4% in 2018

The consumer price index rose 1.4% in 2018 compared with the previous year, while there was also an increase in December on an annual basis. According to the Statistical Service, the consumer price index in December dropped 1.38 points to 100.71 compared to November when it was 102.09 points. The same index, however, was up by 1.7% compared with December 2017. In January-December 2018, the consumer price index was up 1.4% compared with the same period of 2017, when it was 0.5%. Compared with December 2017, the biggest variations were observed in the ‘electricity’ category (up 39.8%), while compared with November 2018, the biggest variation was recorded in the ‘fuel’ category (down 8.8%). The biggest positive variation compared with December 2017 was observed in the ‘housing, water, electricity and gas’ category, with 12%, while the biggest positive variation compared with November 2018 was in the ‘transports’ category (-4.3%). In January-December 2018, the biggest positive variations year-on-year were observed in the ‘housing, water, electricity and gas’ category (5.3%) and ‘transports’ (4.4%).

Annual drop of 16.7% in unemployment

Registered unemployed dropped by 16.7% in December 2018 on an annual basis, according to seasonally adjusted data. Unemployed people registered at the District Labour Offices on the last day of December 2018, reached 29,800. Based on seasonally adjusted data which show the trend of unemployment, the number of registered unemployed for December 2018 dropped to 23,929 persons compared to 24,589 in the previous month. Compared to December 2017, a drop of 5,971 people or 16.7% was recorded which was mainly observed in the sectors of trade, public administration and accommodation and food service activities.

Tax Department registrar updated

The Tax Department has upgraded its database, in order to make the total pending debts of taxpayers clearer. Specifically, the department upgraded its system, through the data included in the Civil Registry, removing deceased people from the database. In this way, the data has been reduced and is now clearer.

Unions recover in 2019

Phileleftheros reports that this year unions will be more assertive that they have been in many years due to the increased profitability of businesses at the expense of their employees’ salaries. The 4% growth rate of the Cypriot economy is a powerful argument for union and their assertions. SEK and PEO representatives argue that social justice and economic equality should be recovered, especially considering that around 43% of the population gets a gross monthly salary of less than €1.294. On the other hand, employers’ associations OEB and KEVE suggest to be moderate, since businesses will be starting off the year with increased labour costs (2.35%) due to GHS contributions and increased Social Insurance contributions.

Cyprus tops restaurant and hotels spending

According to a Eurostat study, Cypriots spend 17.5% of their annual household income on restaurants and hotels. From 2007-2017, Cypriots’ spending on hotels and restaurants increased by 2.7%. According to Eurostat’s data, households in the E.U. spent an average of 8.8% of their total consumption expenditure on restaurants and hotels in 2017, meaning that more than €740 billion were spent across the Union (4.8% of the EU GDP). Citizens of Cyprus, Malta and Spain spend the most money on restaurants and hotels, while citizens of Romania, Poland and Lithuania spend the least.

Altamira: Dynamic acquisition

Politis reports that Italy’s top bad loan specialist doBank has agreed to buy 85% of Altamira Asset Management, valuing the entire company at 412 million euros in a bid to create a leading European credit manager. The article reports that the agreement, is a positive development for Altamira Cyprus because the company will become a leader in the NPLs management sector. This development also creates the foundations for partnerships and cross selling in all sectors.

Fotini Tsiridou, new CSE vice-president

The cabinet appointed Fotini Tsiridou to the vice-president post of the Cyprus Exchange Commission’s board, following the resignation of Savvas Haperis. The decision was taken on 18 December and was published yesterday. Furthermore, Christakis Sergides was appointed as a member of the Council of Research and Innovation.

Two cases of citizenship-by-investment that change the picture

Philenews’ author argues that from all the 550 people that have obtained citizenship through the Cyprus Investment Programme, two cases stand out. The first is the case of Wargaming and the second is Kape Technologies. The author argues that these two tech companies, who represent foreign interests but are widely active on-site in Cyprus, are different from all the accounting, lawyer, and consulting firms that applied for citizenship for their clients. The author argues that it is rather clear why these two companies have applied for the programme. Kape Technologies told the newspaper that the only reason why they were interested was because their company is of foreign interests and many of its members were interested in the programme. Something quite similar seems to be going on with Wargaming, the author argues. The online gaming company employees over 360 people in Cyprus, while with its investments in the country, it could easily claim around 50 passports. The author says that we shouldn’t forget that the company invested in land, buildings, technology, personnel and in a systemic bank in a rather difficult period in terms of economy. It is also known, that founders of the company and members of their families are staying in Cyprus on a permanent basis, having more than once houses. At the same time, many high-ranking members of Wargaming migrated to Cyprus in the last few years. Should they meet the criteria set by the authorities, the author argues, they will be approved or not for citizenship. The author argues that however, cases as the above are not many and that not many businesspeople intend to transfer their headquarters to Cyprus or move to Cyprus themselves. The author concludes his argument by saying that through correct management and by approving only people who meet all the criteria, the citizenship programme could become another tool to attract investors and not merely people that have a relevant economic advantage. He also argues that another aspect that should be examined is the 700-citizenship annual cap that should become even more detailed. Citizenship should only be given to people investing in real estate, so as to give incentives for foreign investments in more sectors of the economy.

Estia Scheme or loan balance correction

Phileleftheros’ author argues that while we wait for the applications of borrowers eligible for the Estia Scheme, another issue arises. The issue of borrowers whose loans/deposits could still be corrected by SEDIPES. The author argues that many borrowers’ accounts were subjected to overcharges. Even though borrowers were reimbursed for interest rates, additional sums should be returned. The author mentions that some of the accounts in question stayed at SEDIPES while others were transferred to Hellenic Bank, which has already answered that for any disputes, borrowers should refer to SEDIPES. The author argues that if a borrower is selected for the Estia Scheme, they will automatically lose any right to claim their overcharges. In some cases, the author says the reduction they will receive through the Estia Scheme will be by far less than if they were returned their overcharges. He concludes by saying that the Commercial Court which was instituted yesterday, could help solve this problem but these specific cases should be solved before the deadline of the Estia Scheme.

Unfortunately, we have a short memory

In this Phileleftheros article, the author argues that Cypriots still have a short memory with regards to the economy. He argues that while some significant steps have been made, the economy is not at all ‘rosy’. He says that in 2013 our country found itself on the brink of collapse. One bank collapsed (Laiki), while the other was saved with the help of its client’s deposits and securities. A third bank got €1.7b from the state (Co-op), in order to be saved but only lasted until the end of 2018. It was then divided in half, with the ‘good’ bank going to Hellenic Bank and the other bad half going to the state and on the taxpayers’ backs. As it comes to the Public sector, the author argues, the government had cash flow to only cover two to three months of salaries, but by following an austerity policy, it has been consolidated up to a point and it is going better. The banking sector he argues, even if it has seemingly stabilised it is still being pressured by not only the accumulated problems of the financial crisis (such as NPLs), but also the increasing demands of the new supervisory frameworks. On the other hand, the private sector is still searching for its identity and even though it is performing better, a lot of issues are holding it back. He further argues that apart from the tourism and construction sectors (which was pushed by passports and town-planning incentives), the remaining sector have not displayed any important improvement. Even the services sector has not managed to pass to the next level. The author argues that employees have been divided in two speeds; the wider public sector which has improved in terms of salaries and benefits and the public sector which suffers from reduced salaries and lack of alternatives. Unemployment has been reduced but 1 in 3 employees, get less than €1.000. The author says that the overall problem is that there is a lack of medium-term and long-term policy and a lack of a master plan for the growth of the economy.

New NPLs sales by BoC and HB

Simerini reports that banks aim to sell more NPLs in 2019, taking advantage of the entire range of available tools in order to further reduce NPLs. The sale of loans, has already been tried by the two major banks of the country in 2018 and will be definitely used again in the near future. The article reports that while BoC has said that they will be definitely looking into selling more loans, they haven’t reached an agreement yet. Their intention is to remove all NPLs from the bank’s balance sheet. Hellenic Bank, on its side, is also examining the likelihood of another NPLs sale, Simerini reports. On 9 December, the CEO of Hellenic Bank, Ioannis Matsis underlined that their duty is to keep examining the possibility of selling a loans package and that they intend to do so, in cases where they deem is the right way to do so. Matsis said that they don’t know yet whether they will end up selling or not, but it is something they are looking into. Simerini reports that according to its own information, Hellenic Bank is trying to reach another big sale. The article goes on to analyse the pros and cons of selling NPL packages.

A look at the week that passed

Phileleftheros’ column looks at the week that passed with regards to economic developments. For Thursday it was reported that a significant number of former Co-op borrowers, whose loans were transferred to Hellenic Bank will receive a reduced interest rate (0.22% reduction). Hellenic Bank informed the borrowers that due to the change in calculation methodology of the basic interest rate, there will be a reduction of 0.22%.

Loans that will never be returned

Simerini author reports that the State has proceeded to an important number of loan guarantees, which some have already been classified as NPLs and which will bring another economic ‘hole’. According to official information, the biggest loans were given to the following organisations: the Equal Weight Distribution Body, the Housing Finance Corporation for the implementation of housing loan policy of the state, the Recapitalisation Fund and the Cyprus Land Development Corporation for the implementation of a housing policy for low-income families. As it comes to the Co-op-Hellenic Bank agreement, the Asset Protection Scheme is not expected to activate a state guarantee. However, the article argues that potentially, guarantees will be needed for the Co-op’s older NPLs. In this case, the sum that will be submitted will be around €45-90m. The above calculated amount will increase in the case where more state guarantees are requested by other credit institutions, especially for loans that have been terminated in a while and are still outstanding.

Will the government tackle tax avoidance?

The author reports that last month the Minister of Finance, Harris Georgiades said that in 2019 he will impose strict measures in order to tackle tax avoidance. Such measures have been imposed by the rest of European countries for many years. Essentially, the author reports, the government will recruit the help of plastic money in order to combat tax avoidance. Specifically, all businesses will be obliged to have a terminal for electronic payments. The government, is preparing a relevant bill that will be sent to the Parliament very soon. Apart from the usage of credit cards, the submission of a tax declaration will become obligatory for all taxpayers, even if they are not taxed. The author argues that the state should be rewarding good consistent taxpayers giving them reductions, rather than deleting the surcharges of non-consistent tax payers.

Companies are not paying annual company fee

Phileleftheros reports that more than 40% of companies owe the “Annual Company Fee” in the last four years. From 2015 to today, only one in two companies have submitted their liability to the state. The deadline to pay the €350 fee is the 30th of June. 90.2% of companies have not submitted the “Annual Company Fee” of 2018. From 205.824 companies, 185.639 did not pay the fee. According to legislation, if companies do not submit the annual fee of €350 by the end of June every year, they are steadily charged more.

Cybersecurity in the digital era

Phileleftheros provides an analysis of the digital revolution, which will continue to change our everyday lives and put innovation and development in the centre of every CEO’s business agenda. Business models will become more digital oriented, companies will be operating on a 24/7 basis, while processes will be running in real time. At the same time, the article argues, more and more organisations will be affected by cyber-attacks in the future. Cybersecurity has thus already become, one of the main strategic aspects of company planning and management. The article also argues that digital durability is conditioned on the involvement of all the parties of an organisation. It goes on to list best practices pertaining to the creation of a comprehensive system of digital durability.

Emphasising on quality and viability

Interview with the Vice-chairman of CFA Society Cyprus, Stella Iliadou who argues that the economy is still on a transitional stage due to the fact that growth has originated from contributions that are not viable in the long-term. Iliadou underlines that the basic pillars of economic growth should be quality and viability, adding that all sectors of activity, the cultivation of agricultural products, the production of pharmaceuticals, tourist and the offer of professional services, should aim to offer high quality of products and services. The vice-president of CFA Society further supports that the sector of alternative investments is an up and coming sector for Cyprus which could offer many possibilities in the future, while the start-up sector, and specifically technology start-ups, could be promoted and especially supported.

Digital transformation of banking

Interview with Charis Pouangare, chief of retail banking and SMEs at Bank of Cyprus, who argues that “digital transformation will improve the client’s experience with the bank and upgrade the customer-focused approach”. Two new digital branches are expected to launch in 2019. One such branch has already been launched at Nicosia Mall, which operates according to the specifications of the new profile of the bank’s future branches. The branches will be equipped with new technologies and will be easily accessible to customers.

Hard times for banks

Kathimerini reports that the continuous reduction of Cypriot banks’ revenue will be further challenged by foreign competition. Fintech Revolut announced last December that it has obtained a license for banking operations in Cyprus. This means that its customers will be able to deposit their salaries and complete a series of banking transactions with minimal costs, in relation to the charges imposed by other banks. Revolut will also offer personal and professional loans with very competitive terms.

Cyprus banks investors suffer losses

According to an analysis by Stockwatch, the shareholders of the two biggest banks of Cyprus (in the CSE) have lost around 65% of their investment since 2014. The public sector, which invested in the Co-op has lost everything. At the same time, as the Financial Times report, European banks’ shares have had their worst year, since the height of the eurozone crisis in 2018, with the sector falling 25%. It is doubtful, the article argues, whether digitalisation will reinstate banks’ shares to their previous dominant position.

Investment in renewables frozen

The article reports that Cyprus is among countries that are far behind the targets set by the EU in relation to the integration of renewable energy in the production of electricity, by 2020. According to Eurostat’s information, Cyprus is 6 percentage points behind the target it has been called to cover. This ranking demonstrates the many problems that continue to prevail on a bureaucratic level ever since Brussels specified that Renewable Energy Sources should contribute to 20% of the total electricity consumption. Bureaucratic complications, which mainly pertain to the procedures for licensing big investments, have frozen such projects.

The creation of a “bad” bank as a reorganisation measure

Simerini author analyses the creation of “bad” banks as a reorganisation measure. He says that the main problem in creating the ‘bad’ bank is mainly the lack of funding. The state is often unable to cover the costs. The solution that is often offered, and this is also valid in Cyprus, is the management of problematic loans by specialised asset management companies, while the portfolio is still owned by the bank. The creation of “bad” banks, the author argues is an important tool in the effort to consolidate banking institutions and unburden them from the huge percentages of NPLs. However, it should be treated as a last resort, since banks are usually able to calculate payment delays and take up the necessary measures in due time.

Call for applications to IDEA

IDEA the Incubator-Accelerator for Startups and an entrepreneurship hub, announces a call for applications by young people and aspiring entrepreneurs who wish to turn their innovative idea into a business. It is the fourth cycle of teams that will participate in the programme. Startups included in the 9-month programme are offered comprehensive training for the creation of a business, mentoring by entrepreneurs, consultation in business, legal, accounting, marketing and ICT issues, full established office facilities, business and networking opportunities as well as a seed capital of €12.000 offered by Bank of Cyprus. The NGO IDEA, will get 5% stake in each company, thereby ensuring the successful resumption of the project and supporting the young entrepreneurs.

Whistleblowers act still in the drawers

“Whistleblowers” are individuals who reveal information about unlawful activities that contain the element of abuse of power within an organization that is either private or public. At the same time that the European Union is promoting additional measures to protect citizens that reveal information to the benefit of the public interest, the Cyprus legislative framework still relies on sporadic decrees. Two relevant bills are pending for discussion at the Parliamentary Committee on Legal Affairs for more than a year. The article argues that the strongest tool to fight against corruption, has remained locked in the Parliament’s drawers after a suggestion of the Ministry.

MPs return to work on Monday

Following the holiday break, the House of Representatives, returns to work on Monday, with its first plenary scheduled for Friday, 11 January. The first parliamentary committees, which will convene on Monday, are the Finance and Interior Affairs Committees. At the Finance Committee, discussions will focus on the Estia Scheme and the approval of specific budget lines, in the presence of the Minister of Finance. At the Committee on Interior Affairs, discussions will continue on the Immovable Property Law, the amending Regulation on Roads and Constructions, the town-planning and spatial planning amending law, and the Amending law on Municipalities, among others.

Osadchiy: Any effort to undermine Russian interests will not go unanswered

Russian Ambassador Stanislav Osadchiy tells Phileleftheros that any effort to undermine Russian interests will not go unanswered. He says that despite the pressure that has been put on Cyprus to distance itself from Russia (aiming to remove Russian companies and capital) there still remains the possibility to work together in a number of areas. He said the Russian community on the island continues to contribute to the Cyprus economy. Furthermore, he says that linking the continuing presence of UNFICYP troops on the island to the resumption of negotiations to find a solution to the Cyprus problem is unacceptable. He says that while Moscow believes that differences over drilling blocks in the eastern Mediterranean should be solved with peaceful means and international justice, solving the Cyprus problem could also end the stand-off over hydrocarbons found around the island and allow the benefits of them to be enjoyed by all Cypriots.

Seeking immediate appointment of Administrative Court.

The Cyprus Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCCI) has urged the government to immediately appoint an Administrative Court in order to prevent new strike action at Limassol port. As it was reported last week, trade union PEO has already warned it will go on strike over the disciplinary action that was launched against dockers who held a work stoppage just before Christmas. CCCI said in an announcement that “it will not tolerate a group of privileged workers at the port of Limassol, acting expediently and without any respect to the labour institutions, to hold the country’s economy hostage, exploiting the fact that the country’s ports are the lung of the island’s economy”. It added that these worrying developments, which are happening for the umpteenth time, should convince even the strongest objectors that the CCCI’s longstanding position for strikes to be regulated is correct.

Lighthouses: The compass of sailors’ destination and life

Haravgi newspaper presents a feature on Cyprus’ lighthouses. Among other, it mentions that the lighthouses active in Cyprus today, and which are under the jurisdiction of the Cyprus Ports Authority, were built during the British colony, made from stone and other materials from Cypriot land. The first lighthouse was built in Paphos in 1888 near the town’s port and castle. They were built in key locations, according to the manager of Limassol port, Panayiotis Agathocleous.

Welcomes EastMed

The Cyprus-Greece Business Association has welcomed the decisions that were made by the leaders of Cyprus, Greece and Israel to construct the natural gas pipeline EastMed. It said that with energy as its driving force, Cyprus and Greece can acquire a new dimension in the region and create the prospects for a better performance of their economies. The Association estimates that energy will play a significant role in future developments in the two countries’ economies, while projects of the scope of EastMed will boost investments. It concludes that these developments confirm the association’s long-standing position that there is great potential in Cyprus and Greece taking advantage of their comparative advantages in the Mediterranean.

Is a tourism revolution possible, Minister?

Politis’ columnist writes about the supposed revolutionary tourism that the Deputy Minister of Tourism has declared, and says that there is nothing about hotel-owners that makes them revolutionary. The author goes on to analyse all the problems that relate to tourism, saying that only in Nicosia do all hotels remain open during the winter months, leaving 410 businesses to be supported by the taxpayers in the rest of the cities. The author also says that tourism and the people’s purchasing power should be supported. He goes on to ask where exactly do the casinos, the marinas and the hotels send the money and how do they help with the wealth distribution of the country. Tourism needs depth, the author argues.

Vinci to buy majority stake of Gatwick

France’s Vinci will buy a majority stake in Britain’s second-busiest airport, London’s Gatwick, for 2.9 billion pounds ($3.7 billion). Vinci Airports’ subsidiary Vinci Concessions will buy a 50.01% stake, which gives Vinci, which already runs 45 airports in 12 countries, access to the world’s largest metropolitan aviation market and is part of the company’s drive to expand its most promising businesses. Vinci operates airports in countries including France, Portugal, Britain, Sweden, Serbia, Cambodia, Japan, United States, Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Chile and Brazil.

The Deputy Minister’s background

Expectations from the first Deputy Minister of Tourism are many. Savvas Perdios has officially taken up the wheel of the tourist reform and will be called to take tourism to the next level, tackling long-term challenges such as seasonality, visual pollution, licensing etc. His professional background (Louis hotels) should become a weapon in order to make Cyprus a year-round tourist destination.

Training personnel in the tourist industry

In Phileleftheros Michalis Demosthenous argues that it is very sad that the state pays millions of euros in order to support the 7.000 employees that are out of work during the winter period. He argues that it is very sad that the state is paying and is not taking advantage of the employees that are unemployed, providing them with speedy training in order to enhance their knowledge. The continuous training and improvement of the personnel’s knowledge guarantees real professionalism that will in turn bring the desired outcome to any business. We can manage to become more effective in the demanding era we are faced with, the author argues. The author goes on to suggest specific training programmes that employees of the tourist sector should be offered.

Hotel bookings reached 90%

The Christmas holidays helped hotels go through the winter period, according to data provided by Cyprus Hotel Association (PASYXE), which represents 60% of licensed tourist accommodation. In the period between 24 – 27 December bookings were around 60-80%. From 2 January onwards, bookings often surpassed 90%. Hotel owners have said that they are reserved about their summer period expectations. They said that due to Brexit’s volatility it is rather difficult to predict how tourism will perform this year.

Looking for €8b in funding from abroad

Brief.com.cy article which refers to the Eden Peninsula Resort project among others, which is the much talked about development in Geroskipou. The project will include two 12-storey buildings and a five-star hotel. The article also refers to the project “Eagle Pine Resort”, for which developers are looking for investors abroad and to the expansion of the Aphrodite Hills Resort with the addition of a golf course and 600 houses. It also refers to the expansion of current resorts to include golf courses, new mixed development projects as well as marinas. It is reported that the completion of these developments will bring 6.000 job positions to Cyprus, thereby helping the country’s economy.

Safety works at Germanina farm finalised

According to Geroskipou mayor, Michalis Pavlides, safety measures to tackle decay and collapse at the Germanina farm in Geroskipou have been finalised, costing a total of €110K. In a statement to CNA, Pavlides reported that the architectural competition for the exploitation of the Germanina farm has been completed, in a bid to transform it into a dynamic, contemporary, viable, multi-functional cultural pole of attraction of local and regional importance. He added that they are looking for resources in order to complete construction plans, so as to increase the chances that the project is funded by the European Union’s structural funds. The project’s cost amounts to around €7m. According to the Mayor the project was under the CTO’s responsibility but was later given to the Municipality.

State funding more closely scrutinised

The decision of the Council of Ministers on 1 January 2019, enforces a more effective management of state funding and the increase of transparency and public accountability. The new procedures that were put forward prevent cases of the past where the same legal or natural persons were getting funding from two or more Ministries for the same goal. Even government organisations and municipalities, which receive state funding every year, will be obligated to deposit a series of information and statements that will prove among other, that the funding they get will be used only for the reason that is approved, away from maladministration and favouritism. The General Auditor’s office of the Republic, recently published the state funding exceeding €1m that was submitted to natural and legal persons during 2017, including €1,3m that was given to Geroskipou Municipality.

Housing in Cyprus over the years

Constantinos Constantis, vice-chairman of the Cyprus Scientific and Technical Chamber (ETEK) says that the housing problem is mainly caused by the increase of students that amount to thousands. He also thinks that the fact that construction was halted for a while, during the financial crisis, contributed to the lack of housing. Furthermore, the fact that big companies turned to the construction of skyscrapers rather than normal accommodation, further contributed to the problem. In addition, the fact that banks are very strict with regards to giving out housing loans, further intensifies the housing crisis.

Independent National Pharmaceutical Authority on the way

The bill providing for the establishment and operation of a National Pharmaceutical Authority is in the final stages of legal vetting, and is expected to be submitted to the House for discussion and then the Plenum for approval very soon, Phileleftheros reports. The bill must be voted through by 1 June 2019, as along with the implementation of the first phase of the GHS and the automatic closure of 28 state pharmacies, public sector pharmacists will be dispatched to the Authority. Disagreements over the way in which they would be dispatched led to delays in the bill being promoted to the Law Office for vetting; however, following an intervention by the public administration and staff department, the problem was settled and the bill will soon be sent to Cabinet for approval, before it goes to the House. Besides the public pharmacists, public servants at the pharmaceutical warehouses and tenders’ departments will also be able to join the Authority, as the Health Insurance Organisation will be taking over the negotiating of medicine prices with the pharmaceutical manufacturers and importers. In a recent revision of the bill, veterinary medicines and biocides were excluded from the Authority’s responsibilities, and will be taken over by the Agriculture Ministry. The Authority will be responsible for supervising medicines for human use, cosmetics, food supplements and medical devices, and it will be in charge of ensuring they are safely supplied and used, defining regulations and making amendments to legislation that it deems fit. The aim of establishing the Authority is to upgrade the services that regulate the aforementioned pharmaceutical products, by changing the administrative and organisational structure of the services that are currently responsible. The paper notes that medicines are currently regulated by a number of different public sector departments. The authority will be independent and function under a board of directors, which will be appointed by Cabinet following a proposal by the Health Minister.

Exacerbating the climate

President Nicos Anastasiades said on Friday that the government was determined to see the implementation of the GHS through to the very end, as he said this was a requirement not just of the government, but also all the political parties. While the Cyprus Medical Association showed that it intended to attend today’s meeting with Anastasiades at the Presidential Palace with no intentions of compromising, a significant announcement came from a big private clinic in Limassol, Mediterranean Hospital of Cyprus, that it intends to participate in the GHS. As for the CMA, Alithia newspaper reports that private doctors proved through relevant statements on Friday that they will not be attending their meeting with the President with any intention of compromising, but instead will try to blackmail him into accepting their positions. A number of private doctors’ associations, including the vascular and intravascular society and the radiology society, joined the ever-growing list of associations announcing their refusal to participate in the GHS. Furthermore, the CMA launched an attack against those who are criticising private doctors in an announcement, saying an effort was underway to “denigrate and depreciate the medical community”.

Doctors to face their responsibilities

On the topic above, Alithia newspaper reports that President Anastasiades will be entering his discussions with the CMA today with the intention of making it clear to private doctors that he will not allow even the slightest of deviation from the timeframes that have been set to implement the GHS. The President, according to the paper’s sources, is extremely annoyed with the private doctors’ stance, and intends to make it clear to them today that the GHS will go ahead, with or without them.

President under the GHS scalpel

Weekly newspaper Kathimerini publishes an extensive report on the topic above, with all the developments of the past week, adding President Anastasiades’ statement as 2018 drew to a close that 2019 will be a year of reforming and modernising the state. It says Anastasiades’ biggest challenge of the year will undoubtedly be to implement the GHS, on the one hand to silence those who are criticising him, and on the other to become the President that finally managed to implement a national health system. The domino effect of private doctors refusing to join the GHS lately is indicative of how difficult a task he has, with some fearing that the government will eventually give in and abandon its plans for the GHS. Whether the President manages to strike the right balance will soon become apparent. Meanwhile, citing sources from the Presidential Palace, the paper reports that there are two alternative solutions being looked at: the first is to appoint older and younger doctors who will be satisfied with the salaries that are offered; and the second to opt for a multi-insurance system. However, experts say this scenario has already been rejected as unsustainable.

Personal doctors in the public sector for patients

GHS beneficiaries will have 38 health centres and 150 personal doctors at their disposal as of 1 June. The most important change, Phileleftheros reports, is that beneficiaries will now have the right to choose which personal doctor they prefer in the public sector too. The paper also reports that the 28 state pharmacies will stop operating, with the implementation of the first phase of the GHS, as the way in which medicines are supplied will change. The pharmacies operating at the health centres and public hospitals will stop operating, with beneficiaries being able to get their medication from their neighbourhood pharmacies, provided they have joined the HIO and can provide services to GHS beneficiaries. It is noted, though, that 15 pharmacies operating in health centres in isolated and mainly mountainous communities will not close down as there are no pharmacies operating in said areas.

The aim is to change the hospitals in five months

Kathimerini newspaper interviews the general director of the Organisation of State Healthcare Services (OKYpY), Nicos Polyzos, who among other says that the aim is to change everything at the state hospitals, from their administration to their daily operation, in the space of five months, so that the improvement is tangible for the public from June up until December. He says there will be two types of changes; the changes to programming, organisation, coordination and assessment, that is to the administration. And the second major effort is to become closer to the patients as well as the staff. “I personally have visited a number of units, hospitals and health centres, in order to get closer to the citizen and improve their daily lives,” he says. Asked when the autonomisation is expected to be completed, Polyzos said the important thing is that it started on time, in January. From there on, the hospitals should be completely autonomous by the beginning of June, and the year should close with tangible improvements in all sectors. He added that all the details will be made public once the OKYpY board of directors approves the timeframes on 18 January.

50 answers on the GHS

Weekly newspaper Simerini provides an extensive article on 50 questions and their answers, relating to the GHS. Furthermore, the paper notes how today’s meeting at the Presidential Palace is considered pivotal to the future of the GHS.

OKYpY in Paphos

Matters concerning patients with heart conditions in Paphos and Limassol were discussed at a meeting on Friday between the directors of the two districts’ hospitals’ cardiology clinics, the leadership of the Organisation of State Healthcare Services (OKYpY) and the Health Ministry’s permanent secretary. According to an announcement, the clinics’ directors were told that heart patients will continue to be treated based on the existing procedure that was set by the Health Ministry. Namely, patients with acute heart failure will be sent to private clinics in Limassol for emergency angioplasty surgery, until the Limassol General Hospital’s Cardiology Clinic is back in operation this Friday, once a malfunction that occurred has been fixed.

The effect of inflation

Cyprus recorded inflation of 1.7% in December 2018, according to data released by CYSTAT. In December 2018, the Consumer Price Index fell by 1.38 units and reached 100.71 units compared to 102.09 units in November 2018. Compared to December 2017, the CPI increased by 1.7% while for the period January - December 2018, the CPI was up by 1.4% compared to the corresponding period of the previous year, a press release on the Statistical Service website shows. For the period January-December 2018, compared to the corresponding period of the previous year, the largest positive changes were noted in Housing, Water, Electricity, Gas and Other Fuels (5.3%) and in Transport (4.4%). Compared to the index of December 2017 the greatest change occurred in Electricity with an increase of 39.8%, while compared to the index of the previous month, the greatest change was noted in Petroleum products with a change of -8.8%. The categories with the largest negative effect on the change of the CPI of December 2018 compared to the previous month, was Transport (-0.67) and Food and non-alcoholic beverages (-0,63). Alcoholic beverages and tobacco also notably recorded a 0.6 decrease.

Alcohol runs through our veins

According to Eurostat, alcoholic drinks and tobacco are a big part of Cypriots’ expenses. More specifically, Cypriots spend 5.6% of their expenses on tobacco and alcohol compared to the 3.8% EU average. More specifically, according to another study, alcohol is the most widespread substance among 16-year olds in Cyprus. In one of the surveys, Cyprus had the third highest alcohol consumption percentage among minors (66%) compared to 35% in other European countries.

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