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The KEBE sees major challenges in pensions, NHS, energy and immigration

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The KEBE sees great challenges for the economy in 2023 and requests changes to the pension system and the National Social Security System, while criticizing the trade unions for their positions on the issues of the minimum wage and ATA. Speaking on Monday at the 95th annual general meeting of the members of the KEBE, its Vice-President, Othonas Theodoulou, presented the Chamber's positions on all issues that concern the economy.

Referring to the economy, Mr. Theodoulou emphasized that we are facing yet another crossroads. Due to the months-long war in Ukraine, the economy is experiencing new turbulence and new problems. After referring to the spike in inflation to 8% and its attendant consequences, he said that the Central Bank is trying to limit the impact and prudently manage economic data until the war ends and the international economy returns to normal.

He expressed the reservations of the KEBE in the policy of continuous increase in interest rates. The KEBE, he said, considers that in the current situation, the continuous interest rate increases will burden the real economy, households and businesses with new burdens. On the other hand, however, he expressed the satisfaction of the KEBE for the growth rate of the economy at 5-6% of GDP and said that this shows that the economy of Cyprus has resistance and can withstand the shocks of the crisis.

Regarding tourism, Mr. Theodoulou said that in 2022, 80-85% of the arrivals and revenues of 2019, which were record years for Cyprus tourism, were covered. He also referred to the satisfactory performance of the real estate, trade, shipping and services sectors, pointing out that “all these are very encouraging figures and send the message that our economy has solid foundations, prospects and a future”.

“The KBE insists that without a modern, efficient and financially sound state, we cannot have a healthy economy, growth and new investments,” he said then, noting a series of reforms the KBE wants completed. Among them are the full utilization of the EU Recovery and Resilience Fund, the restraint of public expenditure and especially the state payroll, the reduction of public debt, the fight against bureaucracy in the public sector and the acceleration of the digital transformation of the state and the economy.

Referring to the energy sector, he said that now is the time to implement beneficial interstate agreements with neighboring countries for the commercial exploitation of natural gas and to meet the needs of the Cypriot market. He also noted that the liberalization of the electricity market and the increase in the participation of RES in our electricity balance should proceed. The KBE welcomes the promotion of EuroAsia's ambitious plan for an electrical interconnection of Israel, Cyprus and Greece, which is expected to end our energy isolation, he said, “thus turning Cyprus into a regional energy hub in the SE Mediterranean,” he added.

Speaking about immigration, he said that the entry of 18,500 irregular immigrants from the green line in the last year also shows the magnitude of the problem. “Cyprus, a small and semi-occupied country, cannot withstand an immigration problem of this magnitude, neither socially, nor economically and, above all, not demographically. Our position is that only by quickly examining applications for political asylum, the immediate repatriation of those who are not approved and the adoption of preventive measures in cooperation with Brussels, this gangrene can be limited”, he pointed out.

Mr. Theodoulou also expressed the reservations and concerns of the KEBE in relation to the GeSY “for the distortions, weaknesses and bad practices  of the system”, as he characterized them. “We want to see the practical crackdown on any exploitation of the health system both on the part of the beneficiaries and the providers, but also the quality upgrade of the health services provided”, he said and added that the GeSY was created to offer quality medicine and to support the whole society in health matters. “It was not made for hoarding or to create a new ravenous elephant that will not be satisfied no matter how much we feed it.”

Regarding the pension system, he said that it has shortcomings, weaknesses and is characterized by injustices. The KEBE requests, among other things, better regulation for early retirement at the age of 63, abolition of multiple pensions, elimination of the upper limit (ceiling) on ​​private sector pensions, noted Mr. Theodoulou.

He then criticized the unions for their positions on the minimum wage and ATA. As he said about the minimum wage, “it is unprecedented in labor institutions to request a review of an agreement that has just been made and has not yet been implemented”.

On the issue of ATA, he addressed the President of the Republic, telling him that it is not only businesses that are affected by this “understandable demand” of the Trade Unions for its full reinstatement, but mainly the state, which pays all ATA employees and he questioned whether the state with the current economic data can give full ATA to its 72,000 employees, without shaking the public finances.

“As KEBE, we declare from the official stage of the general assembly that not only do we not discuss the complete restoration of ATA, but we propose to replace it with a new modern system of granting wage increases that will take into account indicators such as productivity and work efficiency and the growth of the GDP at constant prices”, he announced.

Finally, he referred to businesses and requested specific initiatives to reduce energy costs for businesses, the granting of permits for the employment of foreign workers in sectors where proven chronic shortages exist , relaxation of the strict conditions of Commercial Banks for business lending, faster examination of proposals for investment purposes, improvement of incentives for technological upgrading of businesses and improvement of infrastructure in industrial zones  and regions.

The President of the Republic, Nikos Anastasiadis, addressed the assembly of the KEBE and was attended by Ministers, Leaders or representatives of parties, MPs, foreign ambassadors, state officials and business members of the KEBE.

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Source: www.reporter.com.cy

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