Interview with Michalis Neoptolemou on Lobbying

Why should lobbying be regulated?

Because unregulated, secret lobbying as such may undermine democratic principles and good governance. In a democracy, all interests ought to be duly taken into account and all citizens should have equal access to the law and decision making.

What are the main reasons for the lack of lobbying regulation in Cyprus?

I believe the system itself serves and facilitates those political parties and decision makers that want to refrain from transparency procedures since many decades now. It is well known that the lack of transparency serves unfair decisions for citizens but for the benefit of the “inner circle”.

Should there be in place a legislation on lobbying?

I believe yes, since it will provide a mandatory system which is widely considered to be more effective because of the sanctions involved in cases of breaches of the code of lobbyists.

Should lobbying be self-regulated through Code of Conducts and stricter legislations on Revolving door, Accepting Gifts?

I would say definitely yes, but for the revolving door issue we need to have reciprocity, meaning not only for public employees moving to the private sector but also for private employees moving to the public sector. Articles 69 and 69A of the public sector service law provides for accepting or giving gifts and for mandatory reporting of corruption or bribing activities of other public employees.

How should lobbying be defined in a small country like Cyprus? Lobbying is an attempt to influence government action but who counts as a lobbyist?

If we first define the lobbying groups, then we can come to their activities as well. The European Parliament and European Commission consider the following groups as lobbying groups:

  • Professional consultancies/ law firms/ self-employed consultants
  • In-house lobbyists and trade/ business/ professional organisations
  • Non-governmental organisations
  • Think Tanks/ research and academic Institutions
  • Organisation representing churches and religions communities
  • Organisation representing local, regional and municipal authorities, other public or mixed entities

What is the best approach to regulate lobbying when it takes place at informal meetings and at social events?

By making publicly available these meetings and by providing to the public a short brief on the topics discussed and the outcome.

How do we ensure transparency?

Transparency can be ensured by providing a law that will enforce the meeting parties to disclose publicly the information in question 5 regarding formal & informal meetings and social events.

How do we ensure inclusion of various stakeholders in the decision making process?

By providing a law that:

  • Will clearly define lobby, differentiating between lobbying as a professional activity and the activities of civil society such as organizations and self-regulated entities in different economic sectors
  • Will provide enhanced transparency in the field of lobbying
  • Will provide rules applicable for politicians, civil servants, members of pressure groups and business. These rules should also cover the conflict of interest and the period of time after leaving office during which carrying out lobbying activities
  • Will make mandatory the registration of lobbying entities
  • Will require prior consultations with lobbying organizations on any draft legislation in this field
  • Will encourage for a well-defined, transparent, honest lobbying so as to improve the public image of lobbyists

Legislative footprint INSTEAD of the Impact Assessment Questionnaire that is currently in use?

Definitely we shall need:

  • A legislative footprint
  • Code of Conduct
  • Ethics Conduct

Either in combination or prioritized based on what is of paramount importance at the moment.

Do we need registers?

  1. What kind of information should lobbyists disclose?
  2. Should lobbyists be required to register when lobbying public officials?
  3. Should lobbyists be required to file spending reports in order to ensure transparency?
  4. Should lobbyists be required to report on their activities?

If want to follow the EP model then we can ask for the following but we must give the potential for possible new set of rules:

  • Explanatory letter (signed by applicant)
  • Certificate of employment or For self-employed individuals, a sworn statement or certificate confirming membership of a professional organization or a certificate of VAT registration
  • The articles of association of the organization or any other official document reflecting the legal status of the organization or, in the case of a renewal request, an official up-to-date document confirming the organization’s professional activity (e.g. audited balance sheets or extracts for the last year for which accounts are closed). If accreditation is requested for several persons representing the same organization, the proof of legal status needs to be submitted only once, or
  • For organizations with no legal status, other relevant proof of economic/financial existence

New set of rules that can encourage mandatory registration like:

  • Restricting access to decision makers’ buildings for non-registered organizations;
  • Encouraging decision makers to get lobbyists with whom they meet, to sign up to the register;
  • Facilitating access to information for registered lobbyists, allowing them to co-host events in decision makers’ premises more easily and to participate in public hearings;
  • Restricting the decision makers’ representation at events hosted by non-registered organizations.
  • Registered Organizations should disclose details on their budget and methods

 

*Dr. Michalis Neoptolemou is currently working as an Assistant Managing Director within Remedica Ltd pharmaceutical company. Until late August and for almost 6 years was a member of the Diplomatic Delegation of the Republic of Cyprus to the EU, responsible for the Competitiveness and Growth Dossiers.