Time for the continent to reform its lobbying laws

Reforms that define a legal framework for the lobbying industry could be a game-changer for transparency, investment and policymaking in Africa.

Opinion by

Back at a Paris Summit for Africa’s economic recovery in May, delegates discussed potential solutions to solve the problems created by Covid-19 .

Many at the summit argued that a successful recovery relies on African solutions to African problems, ensuring that local businesses support economies, and governments push through economic developments.

While the pandemic has blurred the lines between the public and private sector, lobbying may be key to helping African economies bounce back post-Covid. Lobbying can play a vital role in creating a more open, business-friendly legal system which is fit for purpose.

It is essential that the global business community, not just in Africa, plays a vital role in creating a more open, investor friendly legal system by improving transparency. As well as improving the perception of societies as attractive places to do business, it simultaneously builds trust in government across society.

This is a global challenge as lobbying and the process of lobbying policy makers is often seen as murky and corrupt. The UK’s Greensill scandal and the accusations facing the government of cronyism illustrate that there is often no easy solution to these complex problems, and even with legislation in place, the lobbying process can be left wide open to abuse.

But how can the continent make lobbying more transparent?

Lobbying is an important part of a functioning democracy and when done transparently it can help educate policymakers by providing information to inform debate and change.

Lobbying often enables government officials to have access to a greater wealth of knowledge and prioritise and organise this information. A country’s legal system can also benefit from lobbying as it can help improve its legislation to make processes more business friendly.

Lobbying can help modernise a legal system by ensuring lines of communication between the state and citizens are open, and the government decision-making process is properly accessible.

Updating lobbying laws in Cyprus

Like many countries in Africa, lobbying in Cyprus until recently was considered by some as the dark arts. However, legislation can force the lobbying process to become more transparent by providing regulatory guidelines.

People in Cyprus started to realise that more needed to be done to transform these processes after the country ranked at the bottom of Transparency International report in 2015 looking at lobbying in Europe.

However real progress was not made until 2019 when it was announced that an anti-corruption body would be established to ensure lobbying of state officials and public servants is properly scrutinised. 

In coming months, the Cypriot Parliament is also due to vote on a proposed bill on transparency in the public decision-making process and related issues, which will regulate lobbying, as well as introducing a bill against corruption and a bill for the protection of whistle-blowers.

The bill regulating lobbying will be a landmark moment ensuring that all this activity is strictly regulated and fit for modern day use. From what has transpired from a number of MPs, the bill regulating lobbying has been finalised but has not passed yet because the bill introducing an anti-corruption body is still pending.

Cyprus’ first lobbying startup, Zenox Public Affairs (www.zenox.cy), was established in 2020 to help close the communication gap between businesses and the government and to help boost access to justice at all levels. Lobbying with Zenox consists of exploratory consultations, legal drafting and delivery of legislation to policymakers, as well as continuous updates about pending legislation.

Zenox is currently assisting, among others, Bolt and Lime in Cyprus in their efforts to modernise the transportation industry including legislating e-scooters, micro mobility, ride-sharing and ride-hailing. Both companies have been advised to sit down and discuss with the authorities to find win-win solutions for all parties. Whilst modern, science-based, transparent lobbying is very new in Cyprus lots of active steps are being taken to further improve the country’s image including the newly formed forum, Cyprus Lobbying and Public Affairs Professionals.

Reform does not stop with businesses; in an effort to bring policy making to the people Nomoplatform was launched. The aim is to encourage transparency across all level of society and to make it accessible to all.

The new app allows anyone to have access to a portal which highlights the bills are making their through parliament and who is promoting them. Whilst the new Cyprus Forum, for which Zenox is a communications partner, is an annual non-profit conference that looks to create change through discussions and subsequent direct action. With a panel of speakers addressing different topics, such forums give a voice to professionals, foster collaborative thinking and help lead to solutions.

Countries like Cyprus would benefit from the legal system being hauled into the 21st century, and a legal system that is transparent and independent from government.

In Cyprus we have seen an overhaul in recent years to attract outside investment, something that we are starting to see more of.

The new Commercial Court will have jurisdiction over contracts and disputes between companies, and shall operate under a contemplated 18 month fast-track procedure independent of district courts.

This radical move to e-justice is part of the wider digitisation of court process which was launched in May 2017. These strides forward, along with other initiatives, means more and more businesses are considering Cyprus. Newly approved changes to immigration incentives aimed at technology professionals, for example, also means more businesses in this sector are also looking to Cyprus.

The ’uberisation of policy making’ is something African countries should embrace, as only by allowing everyone to have access to governmental decisions, and business interaction with government, will a country truly be transparent and able to prosper.

Africa could easily lead the way with rapid reforms throughout the continent as various countries across Africa have highlighted the speed in which development can happen and the depth of creative thought and innovation. Take a look at the micro-mobility sector, across Africa public transport remains in high-demand with many networks struggling to meet the need. As a result, the number of shared-owned electric cars has risen dramatically and adoption of electric bikes and scooters has happened almost overnight. This example also highlights how consumers have woken up to climate change and human rights issues and are demanding change across the business landscape; so only by enabling the population of a country to have transparent access to their government and the lobbying efforts of businesses will real change occur. 

Dr Nicolas Kyriakides, Partner at Harris Kyriakides, Adjunct Faculty at the University of Nicosia, Founder of Cyprus’ first lobbying startup Zenox Public Affairs and the Cyprus Forum

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