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March 15, 2013

Cypriot Church-State Land Deal Almost Closed

March 15, 2013

The Church will soon be transferring tracts of land to the state, bringing to a close a deal struck some 40 years ago.

The announcement was made yesterday following a meeting between Archbishop Chrysostomos and Interior Minister Socrates Hasikos.

A 1971 agreement between Archbishop Makarios – who was president at the time – and the government gave the state around 15,000 donums (1 donum is around 1,337 square metres) of land in return for the state paying part of rural priests’ wages.

Despite that deal, the land registry department did not give its consent to register this land to the state because it is “the legacy of the Greek Cypriot Orthodox community and should not be managed as state land.”

Around 70 per cent of the land in question is now in the Turkish-occupied areas, and the income from the remaining land is negligible compared to what the state pays.

A third of the land in the government-controlled areas is barren and unsuitable for agricultural purposes.

Since 1993, the land has been rented out to private citizens by the land registry department through tenders.

But the income received by the state compared to the subsidy paid to priests was negligible, according to the auditor-general.

Between 1983 and 2004, the state paid around €54.5 million in priests’ wages and received only some €536,000 from rent.

As the cost spiraled, in 1992 the cabinet approved disengaging the subsidy from the entry-level teachers’ wage since that was upgraded.

The land had technically always belonged to the state, however up until now no title deeds had been issued on it, Archbishop Chrysostomos told newsmen.

No transfer fees would be paid in the transfer, he added.

“We shall simply go there [to the land registry department] to sign the documents certifying that the title deeds are to be issued to the state, nothing more.”

Responding to questions, Chrysostomos said the latest evaluation of the land in question put its value at some €80 million.

“This is about one-quarter of the entire [Church] property…the majority of the land is unfortunately in the occupied territories, including coastal real estate with huge value,” the Church leader said.

For his part, Hasikos said the deal meant the land could now be counted as state assets, and it was up to the government how to make use of it.

The Church of Cyprus is the biggest landowner and has interests in various enterprises like hotels, beer, wine and water factories.