AUDITOR-GENERAL Odysseas Michaelides is an untouchable, the Eliot Ness of Kyproulla trying to expose the Al Capones that infest the state sector and clean up the country of the endemic corruption and graft. He has had success in this endeavour, which has turned him into a sacred cow, whose decisions and actions nobody is permitted to question or challenge.
Any criticism of the guy is guaranteed to provoke howls of disapproval, because Odysseas has staked claim to infallibility through his fight against corruption. Whenever this establishment has made a mild criticism of the holier than thou, corruption-buster, it has been accused of serving the interests of corrupt politicians, of trying to discredit a man doing good, of doing Hasikos’ dirty work and other such nonsense.
There is no denying that Odysseas has been a force for good, but he is not infallible and certainly no saint, his devious, manipulative behaviour in the case of the recently completed Pentakomo waste treatment plant suggesting he is not Mr Nice Guy. He has made a big public fuss about the Council of Ministers’ decision to order an investigation into the handling of the contract, worth €70 million, in order to deflect attention away from the leading role he played and the costly decisions he took.
It was the infallible Odysseas who insisted the contract was signed, ignoring the advice of EU experts and the high probability the project would prove an unmitigated disaster and a colossal waste of money, which it has.
IN ORDER not be accused of making unsubstantiated claims against the saintly auditor-general here is a brief account of what happened.
Pressured by the EU to close the environmentally harmful landfills to which domestic rubbish was taken, the wise Chistofias government decided to set up a treatment plant that would use rubbish to produce fuel (SRF – solid recovered fuel). The aim was to build an incinerator that would burn the SRF and produce electricity but this idea was not viable because of the €300 million cost of the incinerator.
No feasibility studies or market research were carried out regarding the disposal of the SRF but the plan was to build four such plants (Nicosia, Limassol, Paphos and Koshi where the existing plant would be converted). The Greek company Helector, owned by the Bombolas group, which was bribing officials and fleecing the taxpayer with its plants in Koshi and Paphos, was behind the plan – the green consultancy firm Enviroplan that Bombolas controlled was advising the idiots of the Tof government and told them to set up the type of treatment plant that Helector would operate.
Enviroplan’s idea of the incinerator was rejected by the environmental study so it was claimed that the SRF produced by the treatment plant would go to the Vassilikos cement factory, which expressed an interest without making any commitment or signing an agreement. After all, the technical specs for the project was that the fuel would be used for an incinerator and not a cement factory.
Interestingly, the fuel that is produced by the plant set up is not SRF, but a mixture of RDF (refuse-derived fuel) and SRF, the manufacturers have christened ‘SRF slurry form’ that could not be used by the cement factory or any industry in Kyproulla.
We set up a plant in Limassol to produce SRF for an incinerator because this suited Bombolas’ interests but we have not set up the incinerator so there are no takers for the fuel. We now have to send it abroad at a cost to the taxpayer of €100 per tonne even though the original idea was that the fuel would cost nothing to dispose of.
HAVING realised it has an embarrassing situation in its hands, the Anastasiades government decided to muddy the waters by ordering an investigation into why there was no study about the disposal of the fuel before the project was undertaken.
This is what prompted Odysseas to make a big fuss, claiming the Council of Ministers should not be responsible for such an investigation as it had taken the decision to sanction the project without seeking any assurances on the disposal of the fuel. He wrote to the attorney-general asking him to undertake the investigation, but if he did not Odysseas’ office would do so.
What chutzpah. Odysseas was in charge of the technical evaluation of the project and argued, at the time, that arrangements for the disposal of the fuel could be made subsequently. The fuel could be stored for two years and then disposed of, he argued. Perhaps this is why he is so keen for the cabinet not to be in charge of the investigation – his role in the mess could be exposed.
He also knows that the AG will turn down his request to order an investigation so he would have to carry out his threat to conduct his own investigation that could blame everyone for the blunder – ministers and ministry officials – except the true culprit, himself.
I may be wrong and his investigation would be so impartial it would also place responsibility for the mess, which will eventually cost the taxpayer millions, on the auditor-general, but I doubt it.
THIS IS a colossal cock-up in which the state commissioned a waste treatment project to produce SRF, the project was changed in mid-process because it was unviable and will now produce RDF and mud – christened ‘SRF slurry form’ by the plant owners – which nobody wants.
The state, which according to the Bombolas-inspired contract takes ownership of the fuel produced, will be stuck with the ‘SRF slurry form’ if it doesn’t pay to send it abroad. The government has invited tenders, but it is looking increasingly unlikely it will find any company to take the fuel, the new name of which is a contradiction in terms. How could it be ‘solid’ fuel if it is in ‘slurry form’?
THE UNTOUCHABLE Odysseas was responsible for the technical checks, evaluation and approval of the project, acting as the middle-man between the Planning Bureau and the European Commission, which was funding the project. He took decisions that led to today’s mess, not because of dishonesty or corruption but because of very poor judgment.
He initially played a constructive role, re-writing the specs for the project, which were tailor-made for Helector, thus opening up the process to more companies. The cost for the project was estimated at €120 million but at that price no foreign firm specialising in waste treatment submitted a tender.
This should have rung a bell, and the ring should have become louder when a consortium of local construction companies, with zero know-how and expertise in waste treatment (their expertise is road building) made a bid for €70 million. Nobody heard the bell and the project was awarded to the road builders.
CONSULTANTS, appointed by the EU to help Cyprus make applications for big projects to the Commission, advised that the contractors should undergo a technical evaluation to establish if they had the expertise to carry out such a project.
The advice was ignored, Odysseas playing the leading role in this by insisting the tenders procedure should be open and the project awarded to the lowest bidder. When told by the consultants the contractors would not be able to carry out the project, Odysseas’ line was that in such a case, under the contract, they would have to pay big compensation to the state.
It did not matter to him that we would have a waste treatment plant that would not serve the purpose it was built for as long as the state received compensation. He did not consider that the Commission will make us return the money it contributed for the project when the plant turns out to be a complete waste of money. Nor did he consider the cost the state would be lumbered with for disposing of the unwanted ‘SRF slurry form’ abroad, assuming it finds any takers.
Odysseas insisted on giving the project to the lowest bidders even if they had no know-how in waste treatment insisting there was no need to find takers for the fuel produced before the project was undertaken and he failed to carry out a feasibility study. And this man has the nerve to accuse ministers publicly by name for his own blunders that will cost the taxpayer millions.
As if this were not bad enough, he even had the nerve to slam the government for not inviting tenders for a similar project in Nicosia, as had been the original plan. If it had done as Odysseas wanted it would have two multi-million cock-ups to deal with. Fortunately, the government decided it was better to see how the Limassol project would go before sanctioning a second blunder in Nicosia.
WHAT is weird is that the ministers who had opposed the project from the start and argued that it was unviable have failed to respond to the scheming Odysseas’ public attacks.
It was the ministers he attacked publicly in the last week – Petrides, Harris – that took a stand against the lunatic Limassol project and managed to block the creation of a second one in Nicosia. On Saturday there was a report in Phil, which is Odysseas’ mouthpiece, slamming the government’s decision to abandon plans of building a second waste treatment plant in Nicosia, which would have doubled the waste of taxpayer’s money.
We suspect they have not defended themselves because of instructions from Prez Nik. He knows that another public row with Odysseas would not be good for his election campaign. People would not pay any attention to the arguments but would see it as another attempt by the government to discredit the saintly auditor-general.
Another explanation is that Nik is on friendly terms with the members of the consortium running the plant and does not want to cause more problems for them. It would therefore now make no sense for ministers to highlight Odysseas’ big responsibilities for the colossal cock-up as this would also upset Nik’s friends.
As for Odysseas, the theatre he staged – accusing everyone of wrongdoing while deviously trying to hide his responsibility and emerge from the scandal blame-free – suggests that apart from all is virtuous qualities he can be quite Machiavellian.
THE PHED Express also ran into a spot of bother last week, but of a different type. The Paphos mayor had dared to respond to an article about his allegations of political corruption written by Phil’s high and mighty Sunday preacher Michalis Ignatiou, who specialises in moral sermons aimed at making his readers as virtuous as him.
Ignatiou, who always writes in the first person, wrote last Sunday: “In my opinion, Mr Phedonos chose an ‘unorthodox’ way to report the scandals, especially if someone is not absolutely certain about the information he publicises and behind which I imagine there are some serious informers. I mean that it is not ‘talk of the coffeeshop’. Choosing publicity first and then the attorney-general, Mr mayor is no longer in the right.”
He then embarked on a moral sermon about journalistic ethics and how accusations must be documented, telling Phedonos: “The mayor must give proof and names if we are to believe him.”
I am sorry I have to point this out but Ignatiou is not exactly in a position to give moral lessons on the subject. This is the guy, who back in 2004 claimed that the Yanks had paid millions of bucks to Greek Cypriots so they would support the Annan plan, sparking a hysterical witch-hunt.
He chose publicity rather than reporting the traitors to the AG; he gave no proof and names but still expected people to believe him. He then announced that he had collected documentation backing his claims and he put these in a book he was writing. Thirteen years later he has still not finished writing the book that would substantiate his allegations.
Like all the greatest preachers, Ignatiou avoids personally practising what he preaches.