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Thursday, July 25, 2024

Disagreement in Parliament over the disclosure of donors to the First Lady's Fund

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 ΔιαφωνΙα στη Β ;ολγημοποηητωδ ωουτοςης Ιας

“Publicizing the list of donors may have a negative consequence on the purpose of the fund and will shrink it” said the Accountant General of the Republic.

Disagreement occurred between MPs at today's meeting of the Parliamentary Committee on Institutions in the context of discussion of the DISY law proposal for the disclosure of donors and amounts donated to the Independent Social Support Agency, the independent fund that has been operating since 2014 under the respective wife of the President of the Republic, to support students from low-income families.

MPs of DISY, AKEL and the Independent MP, Alexandra Attalidou, expressed their support for the proposal, while MPs of DIKO, DIPA and the Independent MP, Andreas Themistokleous, supported the position of the President of the Agency, Filippas Karsera – Christodoulidis, which stated that such an amendment may shrink the Agency's work.

Ms. Karsera-Christodoulidis assured the Committee that she is in favor of transparency, accountability and control, but noted that she does not recognize the importance of making changes to something that works very well, as she said, while underlining that the fund should be protected this, so as not to shrink its ability to support students with financial difficulties.

Furthermore, Mrs. Karsera – Christodoulidis explained that the donors' remittances are made to the Central Bank and that only the Accountant General is the treasurer, while only the examination of the applications is undertaken by the Agency. He also pointed out that there is no anonymity for donors. He also expressed concerns that, if the proposal to make these data public is passed, some donors might be discouraged and this would limit the amounts available to the Agency to support students.

For his part, the Accountant General of the Republic, Andreas Antoniadis, defended himself with the position of the head of the Agency, saying before the Commission that the publication of a list of donors may have a negative consequence on the purpose of the fund and will shrink it, to the detriment of the purpose of establishment and its operation. Those who want to publish their contribution to the Agency do so through the website, in the context of social responsibility, he added.

Mr. Antoniadis also mentioned that the Audit Service also checks the financial statements, although he noted that the audit for the years 2020-2023 is pending and for this purpose the Audit Service is proceeding with the assignment of their audit to a private audit firm. He also said that the list of benefits is also submitted to the Parliament and that the list of benefits for the first half of 2024 is expected to be submitted in July.

The Legal Service, as well as the Ministry of Labor and Social Insurance, agreed with the position of the Agency and the Accountant General. In fact, the Legal Service also expressed concern about a breach of personal data in the case of the disclosure of donor information.

An officer of the Office of the Commissioner for Personal Data Protection, stated before the Commission that a register of donors can be kept, as long as the purpose of keeping it is recorded, but regarding the publication and posting of the register's data, he noted that there may be risks involved. The Commissioner for Transparency, Nikos Zambakidis, was also in favor of transparency during his deposition, however, maintaining reservations about making the data public and asking to hear the positions of the other parties involved.

During the debate in the Committee, questions and comments were raised by the Members of Parliament to the guests, with the tones rising in some cases, on the one hand between the Member of Parliament of AKEL, Irini Charalambidos, and the Member of Parliament of DIKO, Panikos Leonidos, as well as between the Member of Parliament of DISY, Nikos Georgiou, and the Accountant General.

Mr. Georgiou stated during his deposition that a letter forwarded by the Committee to the Accountant General on April 17, 2024, with a series of questions regarding the Agency's amounts and donors, was not answered. For his part, Mr. Antoniadis stated that he had already answered these questions on April 15, 2024, with a letter he prepared following the previous meeting of the Commission on the matter in question. The President of the Committee and MP of DISY, Dimitris Dimitriou, intervened, noting that out of respect for Parliament, the Accountant General should have replied to the letter of April 17.

In the meantime, during Mr. Leonidou's statement when he argued that one cannot prohibit in the context of the parliamentary audit that the list of donors be given to the MPs, Ms. Charalambidou intervened saying that the members of the Audit Committee received an opinion from the Attorney General , when they requested information about the passport program of the Republic, according to which opinion those involved in the case had no obligation to provide information to the Parliament.

At the end of the debate, the members of the Commission agreed by a majority to change the provision in the law proposal, which initially provided that donors of more than €500 should be made public, to an amount of more than €5,000. As mentioned to the Committee, the proposal will be submitted in the next period for a vote by the Plenary of the Parliament.

However, in her statements after the meeting, Mrs. Karsera – Christodoulidis expressed the belief that the Parliament “finally he will realize that it is important to help our young people and not to promote some interests, which are related either to parties or to politics”.

Second round of applications to the Agency was announced by Mrs. Karsera – Christodoulidis

On the occasion of the discussion of the matter in the Parliament, the head of the Independent Social Support Agency stated that during the current academic year, due to increased income, a second announcement will be announced, in order to provide support to children who were rejected, because they were marginally outside the very strict income criteria set by the Agency. The Accountant General reported during the Committee meeting that in the academic year 2023-2024 1,300 applications were submitted. Mrs. Karsera-Christodoulidis said that the second announcement for this year will be announced within the next few days.

She said that rents or fees have already been paid for more than 300 students, while a total of 800 students are expected to be supported this year. He also noted that around 100 children are usually rejected, due to limited available funds of the fund. He also said that the goal is to expand the Agency's ability to support students and their families, including middle-class families.

Ms. Karsera – Christodoulidis also clarified that there is no question of anonymity of the donors. “It is a fund with a lot of transparency, with multiple checks, there is no anonymity, and that should be clarified, because all the sponsors by name deposit their sponsorship,” he said. He also added that because the sponsors “believed in the transparency and accountability procedures followed in the Agency, our income has increased considerably for the current academic year as well”.

“The agency is a very dynamic social tool, it helps children and has helped thousands since it was founded in 2014 until today,” he continued. “We want everything to be done – and this is what we told our Members of Parliament today – to be done with the good of the children in mind, not to stop these sponsorships by putting in various provisions that might expose the sponsors and I want to say that we must have confidence as so many sponsors have.” work done by all of us, I am sure that it will support many of our fellow human beings to young people who are in need”, he concluded.

When asked by a journalist whether the Agency's work will be affected if the proposed law that was discussed today is adopted by the Parliament, he replied that “if this change is made it will not be a hindrance”, but pointed out that the law today “has a four-fold control and there is also accountability and transparency because the Auditor General can know at any time the names and amounts of all donors”.

“Publicizing the names and amounts on a website as requested today by the amendment is something that is not customary for any charitable NGO, not even in the states, because there is the sensitive personal data of the donors and at the same time there is the right to anonymity when you're doing a charity,” he added.

When asked if she supports giving information to the Parliament, in the context of the parliamentary control, she said that it is not her role to take a stand for the parliamentary control. He emphasized that he is in favor of transparency and accountability, however. “What is most important is to see how we protect a fund that works well, that favors the world, the young people that gives scholarships”, he added, concluding that it is always at the Parliament's disposal to strengthen transparency.

Declarations of Members of Parliament

Disy Member of Parliament and one of the proposers of the proposal, Nikos Georgiou, said that the control is not disputed, but transparency and information are sought.< /p>

“The House of Representatives cannot have voted and applied today the Law on Taking Public Decisions of Public Interest, according to which every state official, every civil servant, any communication or contact they have in matters of promoting anyone's requests, should sign relevant form and this form to be published”, he said, adding that “when this Agency accepts contributions of a few tens or hundreds of euros, we must consolidate and ensure transparency”. “Transparency did not hinder or harm anyone and any state,” he concluded.

AKEL Member of Parliament, Christos Christofidis, speaking at the meeting, said that the Agency cannot replace the state's student policy and that private sponsorships should be channeled to existing state structures. He also said that the contributions may be legitimate, but hide other springs and extensions.

AKEL Member of Parliament, Irini Charalambidou, in her statements after the meeting said that there should be structured support from the state for students, pointing out that today this support is given by a body that is very close to decision-making centers and is imposed to have full transparency.

He also recalled that at the last meeting of the Committee on the same issue, the Auditor General “had made reference to hundreds of thousands that were given in the past to the organization and then there were naturalizations of the persons who made the contributions”.

On access to information through parliamentary scrutiny, he said that “in recent years there has been a tendency on the part of the executive not to file the information requested by parliament” and added that for this reason a cross-party group of eight MPs filed proposal of a law to make the filing of data mandatory.

The Member of Parliament of DIKO, Zacharias Koulias, stated after the meeting that the proposal contradicts the existing legislation and the European acquis. He also said that a person who contributes does not want to go public so as not to advertise that he is sensitive. He pointed out that Mrs. Karsera – Christodoulidis managed to increase the flow of donations to the Agency and that this effort should be applauded, concluding that the law proposal should not be voted on in the Plenary Session of the Parliament.

The Member of Parliament DIKO, Pavlos Mylonas, with his intervention at the meeting, said that the Agency should be supported “as a part of us and not as something that is in front of us” and expressed the opinion that the Agency should give information to whoever requests it.

DIPA Member of Parliament, Marinos Musiouttas, said that “transparency is good, but it should not hinder the purpose and goals of this fund”. He expressed the belief that with the checks that are being carried out, the fund is offering what it has been offering since its establishment in 2013. He also noted that if it is deemed necessary, the checks can be intensified.

The Independent Member of Parliament, Alexandra Attalidou, in her intervention at the meeting said that all donations to the public should be subject to the same legislation to ensure transparency, as well as that there should be a procedure within the state structures for providing assistance to students who are struggling.

The Independent Member of Parliament, Andreas Themistokleous, in his intervention at the meeting said that society does not need to know who each sponsor is and that this will result in a sponsor being forced to give so much more, to appease those who approach him protesting.

Source: politis.com.cy

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