Interior Minister Constantinos Petrides described the land consolidation department on Thursday as a monument of systemic corruption and announced its integration with the land registry.
Speaking before the House watchdog committee, Petrides said the initial decision in 2013 was to incorporate the department into the land registry, adding that the state could no longer maintain what he described as ‘kingdoms’.
Auditor-General Odysseas Michaelides said he never expected to find such a level of corruption in a low policy department.
“Instead of creating the department to help farming, we did it to help certain people, either developers, or people linked with the department ending up with land that could be used for building a home,” he said.
The department’s mission is to strengthen land-use efficiency by aggregating and redistributing privately owned swathes in designated areas with a view to minimising fragmentation – a key disadvantage in the efficiency of agricultural land.
However, the audit service’s investigations throughout 2015 revealed a number of issues in staff inefficiency, project completion times and the lack of assessment of completed projects.
The total area used as farmland after completion of the project – the increase in which was ostensibly one of the key goals – was actually reduced by 87 hectares, relative to that used prior to the redistribution.
Additionally, it was found that large plots owned by one individual were broken down and redistributed in 4,000 square-metre chunks, which is the minimum plot size that allows the construction of a house in land designated as agricultural.
“There is exceptionally high inefficiency in the manner with which the department is handling the remaining plans and it was correct to transfer staff to other government departments,” Michaelides said.
“Our suggestion is that the few remaining workers should focus on ongoing plans, which have been pending between 12 and 20 years.”