THIS newspaper has for years argued against the construction of a highway from Paphos to Polis, because of the prohibitive cost that could in no way be justified by the small number of drivers using it. Original plans, maximised the cost by envisaging the creation of tunnels and bridges, but even after these were removed from the plans, the highway was still economically unviable, as the number of users it would serve could not justify the huge expense.
There was a much less costly and environmentally-friendly alternative to the building of a four-lane highway that would ruin the beautiful countryside – the improvement of the existing road by creating an extra lane in some stretches of the road to allow overtaking. The cost of such improvements would be affordable, reduce drive-time and preserve the scenic route, which was one of the pleasures of the drive from Paphos to Polis.
With elections on the horizon and the economy in better shape than it has been for years, President Anastasiades decided it was time to put the project back on the government agenda. The promise of building the highway was a vote-winner as none of his rival candidates would dare oppose it or question its viability for fear of alienating the area’s voters. Peculiarly, the government announced it would invite tenders for improvement to the existing road this year and in its 2018 budget, it would invite tenders for the building of a new road.
Concerned about the government’s profligacy, auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides decided to send a letter to finance minister Harris Georgiades asking for expenditure item on the Paphos-Polis road to be removed from the 2018 budget as it was unviable. He cited the 2014 law on Fiscal responsibility and sent the letter to the attorney-general as well, while advising Georgiades to carry out a re-examination of the project so that it could become viable.
Even though Michaelides’ evaluation is correct he is once again overstepping the bounds of his constitutional authority, acting as if he is a higher power than the council of ministers. He is making a habit of behaving as the supreme authority of the country. A few months ago, he expressed his disapproval of renting office space, telling the government that it should be building its own premises on state land to house state services, as if it were his business.
Not content to try to block the executive’s decisions, Michaelides is now also telling the attorney-general how he should do his job. The letter claiming the road project was in violation of the law, was also sent to the AG, presumably to pressure him into taking action against the ‘law-breaking’ executive. It was fitting that the government responded to Michaelides by reminding him that under the constitution, the drafting and submission to the Council of Ministers of the state budget was the exclusive responsibility of the finance minister.
Who will put the auditor-general in his place for violating the constitution? His action is indefensible, even if it is for a good cause.