THOUGH surprised that he is no longer the environment commissioner despite his hard work, Charalambos Theopemptou said yesterday that he would continue being an active environmentalist, petitioning ministers and maintaining his blog to raise awareness and share information with people.
President Nicos Anastasiades has appointed as environment commissioner the head of the Green Party, Ioanna Panayiotou, who will replace Theopemptou with a stronger mandate.
The appointment has come with promises that the job will be institutionalised and strengthened by the creation of an environment council to promote green development and oversee funds relating to environmental issues across various departments.
Theopemptou said that parliament had previously halted efforts to set up an environment council, which he said was a redundant idea now in any case as EU rules provide that all departments need to hold public consultations with stakeholders before taking any relevant action where the environment is concerned. So a mechanism is in place to do the council’s job, he said.
However what is needed is implementation of EU law, Theopemptou said.
Theopemptou was first appointed environment commissioner by former President Tassos Papadopoulos and then reappointed by Demetris Christofias in 2008.
Working alone, with just one secretary assigned to him, he set up a blog and got connected on Facebook and Twitter. “You can’t get by without (the internet) if you’re by yourself,” he said.
In his six years in office, Theopemptou roamed the country, doing 40 to 50 presentations a year, visiting schools and villages to raise awareness on a number of issues.
He also had to sieve through some 250 emails a day, all the while trying to set up policies and initiate change.
“I started dealing with issues one by one. It’s not a job that you sit there and wait,” he told Sigma TV, which yesterday paid tribute to him and the work he has done.
“My car spent many hours at rubbish dumps, dams, crevasses, the beach, everywhere,” he said.
Being environment commissioner is not a desk job and you need to be out, verifying claims, learning from people and raising awareness, he added.
Tributes have been pouring in for Theopemptou, many congratulating and thanking him, and others critical of the decision to “replace a very successful environment commissioner”.
Theopemptou himself admitted to being surprised at the decision and expressed his disappointment. “I thought I had put in enough work to justify my re-appointment. But the decision has been taken,” he said.
Next in line is a return to lecturing, and Theopemptou said that he is due to have a meeting to discuss his future at the Technological University of Cyprus (TEPAK) in Limassol.
During his time in office, Theopemptou helped change the state tenders’ procedure, forcing companies to prove they recycled in order to qualify for bidding. This increased the number of companies which registered with recycling company Green Dot.
He also actively pushed to stop the compulsory printing of annual reports by public companies listed at the stock market, and helped make bikes and cycle paths more common, among many other endeavours.
He said there was still much to be done in Cyprus. The legislation on environmental impact studies is “very lax” and the state spends million on electricity and heating bills for buildings that can “with minimal cost” become much more efficient, Theopemptou said.
“But you won’t get rid of me,” he added. “I’ll still be around; it’s not about whether you are a commissioner, it’s about the good of the country.”