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“I do not operate above the law” – Panagiotou's reaction to using waste instead of compost

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«Δεν λειτου&rho ;γo υπερaνω του νoμου»-Η αντiδρασ&eta ; Παναγιoτου για χρorση αποβλorτων &alpha ;ντi κομπoστ

There is no legal framework to pay the compensations and “I cannot operate above the law”, the Minister of Agriculture, Rural Development and Environment, Maria Panagiotou, said on Tuesday to the Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture, during the discussion of the compensation request of the 15 of farmers who bought unsuitable compost, from an unlicensed company that was nevertheless listed on the website of the Ministry of Agriculture.

Within the Committee, the Members of the Committee criticized the handling by the Ministry of Agriculture and pointed out that the farmers should be compensated. For their part, the agricultural organizations and affected farmers said that the issue with the relevant government agencies is that they do not admit their mistakes, noting that the fault should not be shouldered by the farmers. On behalf of the Legal Service, the Lawyer of Republic A, Eleni Kouzoupi, defended the Legal Service's decision not to pay compensation, noting that “on the one hand there was negligence on the part of the state”, but on the other hand there was potential knowledge – and they should have known – that the farmers had an obligation based on the manual, the training and the publication on the website of the Ministry and the PFTC to ensure that the conditions were met.

Responding to the mentioned issues, the Minister stated that “it was a mistake that all the companies entered without making a distinction between those licensed and those under licensing”. She noted that she was the first to try to find ways if there is a possibility and a legal framework to compensate farmers, pointing out that “I cannot operate above the law.” He explained that there is no legal framework for compensation to be paid, noting that the legal opinion clearly says that someone who has not installed compost cannot be compensated.

The Minister of Agriculture stated that the previous time she was invited by the Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture, she read verbatim the opinion of the Legal Service, according to which the Republic is not responsible and is not obliged to pay any compensation to farmers who bought and placed waste instead compost as provided in the relevant manual.

He noted that despite the procedural mistakes made by the competent authority, the farmers had and still have knowledge of what compost is, both at the base relevant manual, as well as in trainings that took place. Therefore, he continued, “the Department is not going to condone knowingly violating the provisions of the measure.”

He also added that the opinion of the Legal Service had not been accepted by the Committee on Agriculture, with the MPs reporting that Ministry officials inspected units that put waste instead of compost, and informed them that the material they had deposited was compliant with the manual. in their fields, while the next day in an on-site visit the same officials – as reported by the MPs – told them that it was not compliant.

He pointed out that for this purpose, immediately after the session of the Agriculture Committee, he requested a report of facts so that the reports could be examined and the corresponding documentation could be provided.

He stated that from the report of facts it appears that immediately after the matter was reported, an inspection was carried out throughout Cyprus to establish the extent of the problem and the facts with enough photographic and witness material and this, as he said, contradicts the position expressed at the previous meeting of the Agriculture Committee that a satisfactory inspection was not carried out or that it was carried out partially or superficially by the vehicles. Also, he continued, from the inspection and the witness material “it is documented that there were materials foreign to the compost in the waste” such as plastics, impregnated wood, sheet metal and others.

He noted that during field visits by Ministry officials in the province of Larnaca, in various villages, waste was deposited instead of compost, and this is contrary to the content of the implementation manual of the measure subsidized by KOAP.

Referred to inspections by the Department of the Environment, carried out between July 7, 2023 – July 18, 2023, during which it was found that waste supplied by a certain company was placed, noting that a fine of 20 thousand was imposed euros to this company due to the finding.

He stated that even if the Officers of the Department of Environment did not find this, the fact that what is compost is explicitly described in the application manual, that it is widely known what is waste and what is not is confirmed by the fact that the majority of farmers (46 out of the 61) received compost and even paid much more for it (20-25 euros per cubic meter) than the 15 farmers (13 euros per cubic meter) who were found to have purchased waste and not compost. He explained that this price was clearly lower and this could cause problems for the farmers who were loyal to this company seeing the poor quality of the product and that it did not meet the specifications.

He stated that without the observance of this condition, i.e. the incorporation of organic matter into the soil, no subsidy is received from the EU, while licensing does not affect the receipt of the subsidy. For this reason, he said, all those who bought and placed compost according to the manual will receive a subsidy regardless of whether the company approves it or not.

At the same time, the Minister referred extensively to measures taken by the Ministry in response to reports that the Ministry does not support farmers, noting that “the Ministry continues to support the primary sector in practice with full respect for all farmers”, implementing measures and plans which put the protection of the farmer and the payment of a fair income at the center.

Statements of Members of Parliament

The Chairman of the Agriculture Committee, Member of Parliament of AKEL, Giannakis Gavriil, stated within the Committee that “people have been victimized and we expect their rehabilitation” noting that it is “a political decision that must be made from own resources to give people the compensation that entitled”.

The Deputy Chairman of the Committee, Member of Parliament of AKEL, Andreas Pasiourtidis, stated after the end of the Committee that the mistake starts with the fact that the state, the Ministry of Agriculture, through its Departments, had posted on its website 8 licensed companies, then there were 7 , from which they invited the farmers to take compost from them. He added that through discussions it had become clear that only 2 companies were licensed and that the remaining 5 were “under licensing”.

“The only victim is the 15 farmers. The Ministry made a mistake but it will not pay because it will pass on its damage to the farmers”, he said and spoke of “criminal negligence by both the officials and the relevant departments”.

He noted that the issue is political, saying that the Minister could, with a political decision, give a fund, which does not exceed 200 thousand euros, to cover these 15 people. “On the contrary (the Minister) hides behind a legal opinion, hides behind what the officials told them, who have not told the reality as it has happened on the ground, and hides behind the fact that these people are the weak side in the debate, not the strong side,” he concluded.

Within the Committee, DISY Member of Parliament, Charalambos Pazaros, addressing the Minister said that “here are 15 people who had no responsibility and are asking for the help of the state”. He added that the Ministry should try to make savings so that the amount is found and the farmers are compensated. He noted that these could have been avoided if there was better education, information and training from the officials to the farmers.

DIKO MP, Christos Orfanidis, reported from that a way must be found to help the affected farmers.

ELAM Member of Parliament, Linos Papagiannis, said that “my opinion is that there are people who they were deceived, without their own responsibility”. He added that nothing illegal or unreasonable is being asked to be done other than to compensate those affected.

The MP for Environmentalists-Citizens Cooperation, Charalambos Theopeptou, said that the fact that they were given permits for composting without actually explaining what they are, is one of the colossal failures. “We have to define what we mean by giving permission for composting” said Mr. Theopeptou saying that “the important thing is to compensate people”.

Source: KYPE

Source: reporter.com.cy

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