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Tales from the Coffeeshop: Bankers and politicians exchange places
WE HAVE seen many crazy things on this island but nationalising a bank and putting it under the control of politicians in the hope of saving it from bankruptcy could be the craziest yet.
If you asked any sane person what the best way to ensure the bankruptcy of a bank would be, he would tell you to put it under state control and let the appointees of the political parties run it.
The success rate of the party appointees is impressive when you consider their records at companies operating in the open market such as Eurocypria and Cyprus Airways. Then there is the Electricity Authority, the state monopoly that has seen its huge surpluses diminish every year and now has trouble finding financing for big projects.
Now the Popular Bank will rely on the party appointees to save it from bankruptcy and return it to profitability, even though big losses are the only certainty when politicians become involved in the running of a state-owned business.
Then again, it was under boards made up of supposedly smart and capable businessmen the Cypriot banks invested billions in Greek government bonds and were left needing a state bailout.
The politicians, to be fair, played no part in the creation of the banking crisis, but they could probably be counted on to finish off what the dismally inept boards of the banks together with the bank executives started.
OUR POLITICIANS demonstrated their commitment to saving the banks earlier in the week when they spent two days haggling and rowing over the people that should be appointed directors of the Popular Bank.
Finance minister Shiarly originally was to appoint two new directors as there were two vacant seats in the 15-member board. The legislature, however wanted five new directors – many placemen had to be satisfied by the parties – so two more directors resigned from the board. Eventually, a third stepped down, but not the Greek director, considered the Vgenopoulos man, whom everyone wanted out.
By Wednesday, the second day of the haggling, it was decided that another three party-backed directors would be appointed (bringing the number of state appointees to eight) and two of them were named while the third would be decided later. One of these directors-in-waiting is an academic by the name of Panicos Poudziouris. With a name like that you automatically assumed he is a bona fide Akelite.
THERE were also cries of ‘rusfeti’ by hypocritical deputies after they spotted a note in English attached to the back of the CV of one of the new directors, Marios Hadjiyiannakis, stating that “Hadiyiannakis informed me that his name is being put forward and supported by Andros and his people.”
Some deputies called for the hapless Hadjiyiannakis’ resignation an hour after he was appointed, on the grounds that he was the beneficiary of AKEL rusfeti, in stark contrast to the other appointees who were backed by DISY and DIKO on purely meritocratic criteria.
Shiarly and AKEL issued statements making it clear that AKEL boss Andros had never engaged in any consultations or made proposals about the appointment of any director. In fact we can reveal today that the Andros mentioned in the note was not the commie chief, but an influential Strovolos barber who, apart from regularly trimming Shiarly’s moustache, also advises him on economic policy.
WHILE the politicians were acting like bankers, the bankers started acting like politicians. The Bank of Cyprus CEO Andreas Eliades tried to rally his demoralised troops with a rousing speech about preventing the nationalisation of the bank. He pledged to prevent this from happening, drawing the applause of his employees.
Like a good politician he offered his audience hope, rather than dwelling on the past and answering the question ‘who got us in this mess in the first place?’
Meanwhile, at the Popular Bank, the new CEO Christos Stylianides, like a good politician, was passing the buck, blaming his predecessor for the bank’s problems. He was just an innocent bystander, who had neither heard nor seen anything peculiar, when he was happily serving in the Vgenopoulos regime as deputy CEO of Marfin Popular Bank.
Had he known the Vgenopoulos regime had sanctioned unsecured loans worth close to €100 million to a bank director, Stylianides would have resigned and spoken out against the bank’s dodgy dealings. But he was just the deputy CEO at the time and had no way of knowing what was going on in his bank.
AFTER all the damage the bankers have done to the country you would have hoped that they would be treated like lepers by our society. On the contrary, the parties of the in-between political space are seriously considering making a banker their presidential candidate.
DIKO chief Garoyian yesterday announced that Hellenic Bank’s CEO Makis Keravnos, is the ‘first choice’ to be candidate of the inbetweeners. Hellenic Bank is not as deep in the shit as the other two banks – it announced losses of €87 million for 2011 on Wednesday – but is still in it and has undertaken a share issue to meet its re-capitalisation requirement.
After his name was mentioned as a possible candidate, earlier in the week, Keravnos said that he had never been asked to be candidate and was not interested. Garoyian also repeated this line yesterday, when asked if his ‘first choice’ candidate had been consulted about the possibility of standing. There would be talks with him in the next few days he said, expecting us to buy the myth that his ‘first choice’ candidate had not been asked.
KERAVNOS has been pleading ignorance, because the inbetweeners might not make him candidate, but anyone who read the speech he made to the Hellenic Bank AGM on Wednesday would realise that he is very interested in being a candidate.
It was not the speech of a banker but of a prospective presidential candidate, who slammed the critics of the banks and argued that defending the banks was a patriotic duty. He warned that the criticism of the banks was driving foreign businesses away and turned on the demagogues and populists who were harming the country.
I would have said the he was just following the new fashion of bankers behaving like politicians, had he not been the darling of the Church. Makis is the Church’s banker, hand-picked to head Hellenic Bank by Archbishop Chrys in 2005. And Chrys who is the sponsor of the inbetweeners, could well have persuaded Garoyian, Omirou et al to adopt his loyal employee as their candidate.
Only then would Chrys be certain to have a big say in the running of the country, and of course the handling of the Cypob.
THE INBETWEENERS will make a decision about the candidate this week and then wait for another month to find out if AKEL will join the alliance. The truth is that they should not have considered AKEL joining their electoral alliance even as a joke.
In theory, the four parties got together to rid us of the comrade’s calamitous government and save us from to outrageous concessions he made to the Turkish side in the talks. They have invited the party that fully backed these concessions and was responsible for turning the economy into a disaster zone to be part of the government that will save us from the destructive effects of AKEL rule.
WE HAD thought that after the collapse of the peace talks, Big Bad Al and his team would have packed up and gone home. However, the Aussie announced, while in New York last week, the talks would continue at technical committee level, until the presidential elections.
More importantly, Al would still be employed as Special Advisor of the UNSG until 2013. In short, he will be getting paid a big fat salary by the UN to do nothing, other than to visit Kyproulla every couple months for a few days to meet up with the leaders, check the lack of progress achieved by the technical committees and play a few rounds of golf.
This is what economists would describe as hidden unemployment, people getting paid – in the case of Al loads of money - for unproductive work. I have been looking for a job like this all my life.
MORE TROUBLE has hit the island’s venerated private school, The English School, but this time it has not been caused by nationalist parents, peacenik teachers or the Akelite board of governors.
The headmaster and the board have decided to cancel this year’s graduation party as punishment for the pranks they staged. Pranks have become an annual tradition for the school-leavers who always try to outdo the previous year’s students. One year, they took in hundreds of eggs which they then proceeded to throw at the walls.
This is the downside of giving students too much freedom. Back in the days when the school was run by the intimidating Tsar, the worst thing school-leavers did was spray shaving foam on each other, but nobody dared damage school property.
This year, students locked a rooster in the staff room overnight and apart from leaving his pooh all over the place, the bird also tore teachers’ papers. Teachers were even less impressed when they tried to get into their classrooms one morning and found that they could not unlock the door. All the key-holes had been stuffed with silicon by the teenage pranksters.
As blowing up the school buildings was estimated to be just a couple of years away, the new headmaster and the board decided to take a hard line and cancelled the graduation ceremony. Some teachers have been trying to persuade kids to name the pranksters so they would be punished and the ceremony held, but nobody would snitch. The school-leavers have learnt one important value while at the school.
In an attempt to have their ceremony the school-leavers sent a letter of apology to the headmaster last week, but he refused to budge.
SOME READERS will remember the story about the Canadian national Christopher Metsos who was wanted by the US authorities for suspected spying and was detained in Larnaca in June 2010 pending his extradition. Needless to say that the Larnaca District Court Judge did not deem it necessary to issue a remand order until the extradition papers arrived from the US, asking Metsos to post bail instead.
Metsos paid €26,600 as bail and disappeared, never appearing in court. He fled the country within hours of leaving the court and was subsequently reported to have been seen celebrating his freedom Russia. Our establishment has heard that bail money has been returned to Metsos.
This is strange, considering that when he failed to appear in court for trial the Judge ordered the confiscation of the bail money. Is it possible that after he took the piss out of our state authorities in such a blatant way, we gave him his money back?