How to: Transform Lobbying

For businesses in Africa, lobbying can play a vital role in creating a more open, business friendly legal system which is fit for purpose. However, throughout history, the process of lobbying policymakers has been open to abuse and at times, controversial. One only has to look at Britain’s current Greensill scandal and the accusations facing the government of cronyism to know that there is often no easy solution to these problems, and even with legislation in place, the lobbying process can be wide open to abuse. The pandemic has also exposed the often-blurred lines between the public and private sector, especially when it comes to awarding contracts for public health work.

Why is lobbying important?

However, whilst the motivators and ethics behind certain lobbying activities can certainly be questionable, lobbying does play an important role in democracy. Lobbyists can help educate policymakers and provide information to help inform debate and change. Lobbying often enables government officials to have access to a greater wealth of knowledge and prioritise and organise this information.

Lobbying can also have a particularly important role when it comes to improving a legal system and how it works in practice for businesses, as it ensures the lines of communication between state and citizens are open, and the government decision-making process is properly accessible.

In Africa, lobbying is still in its infancy in many countries and there is no legislation or regulatory frameworks governing these activities.

How to create transparency

Arguably, there are lessons African democracies can learn from Cyprus. The first step is legislation. In 2015, a report from Transparency International urgently called for lobbying reform across Europe, identifying that “of the 19 European countries assessed, only 7 have some form of dedicated lobbying law or regulation, allowing for nearly unfettered influence of business interests on the daily lives of Europeans.” In this report, Cyprus ranked at the bottom when assessed on fair access to both decision-makers and information.

However, in recent years important steps have been taken to ensure the political system is transparent and open and lobbying, which is also increasingly finding a vital foothold in Cyprus, is done properly.  In 2019, it was announced that an anti-corruption body would be established to ensure lobbying of state officials and public servants is properly scrutinised.

In June 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. Both should be expected to pass by the new Parliament to be formed after the parliamentary elections on the 30th of May.

However, it is not just about legislation. Other initiatives have also helped to ensure Cyprus is viewed as a more open and transparent nation. For example, the establishment of Nomoplatform, allows users to track the policy-making process. This platform is online and free to access, meaning anyone with an interest in Cyprus can now easily see how legislation is progressing through its various stages.

Professionals can also be brought in to assist with the lobbying process and having an agency support not just with the lobbying activities, but also communication more generally can be very helpful.

For instance, Cyprus’ first lobbying start-up, Zenox Public Affairs 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.

How lobbying can drive change

Africa is experiencing massive changes – the rate of innovation is rapid. Many of these innovations are technology-based and as Ndagi Job Goshi, GM of Liferay Africa writes in VentureBurn, “Many of these technologies are mobile-based and are built off the back of Africans being willing to experiment and adopt new technologies that people in more developed markets might be willing to try.”

However, ever-evolving technology means laws are often far too slow to catch up with the realities of how these innovations work and interact with daily life. This is where lobbying can help. In Cyprus, Zenox has been working closely with Bolt, Lime and other companies in its efforts to modernise the transportation industry including micromobility, ride-sharing, ride-hailing etc. Changes to the law can move at a snail’s pace and lobbying can help speed up the process to bolster business and support innovation.

However, of course challenges remain and unfortunately in some countries and situations, lobbying can be a byword for corruption and deals done under the table.  Lobbying certainly needs to be strictly regulated to ensure it serves its purpose. However, as mentioned, there are steps that can be taken to help create a more transparent and welcoming place to do business without enacting legislation. The management of lobbying is certainly a worldwide issue and with Millennials and Generation Z coming of age and increasingly becoming more vocal about politics and driving for a more just and fair society, this is an issue which is not going away any time soon.

Although Cyprus is not perfect, the country has certainly managed to start on the path to tackle its issues around transparency and transform itself into a business destination for companies from Africa, the Middle East and globally. This roadmap could be helpful for any other countries starting on a similar journey.

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