Auditor-General Odysseas Michaelides on Friday said the board of the Cyprus Hydrocarbons Company (CHC) had acted with total disrespect for the practices of the rest of the public sector by forking out huge amounts of cash on high salaries and benefits without the approval of competent ministries and despite having not generated any proceeds yet.
The audit office report on the CHC for the period between October 2013 and December 31 2016 said that the way the company handles staff matters ‘is unacceptable and leads to the ongoing squandering of public money’.
Speaking to state broadcaster CyBC, Michaelides said the main problem his service recorded is that CHC is a company with zero income which operates on the state grant it receives, but with massive expenditure.
CHC is a limited liability company with share capital. Its sole shareholder is the minister of energy, on behalf of the government of the Republic of Cyprus. It has a 12-member staff.
The company’s total expenditure Michaelides said, was €500,000 in 2014, €700,000 in 2015, and €1.8 million in 2016.
“It basically hasn’t begun the operations it is expected to do yet, although through no fault of the company, but there is a tendency to offer excessive benefits and extremely favourable employment terms to the staff,” Michaelides said.
The annual salary of the company’s CEO is €180,000 and that of the executive manager was €135,000, but was recently raised to €145,000.
The company’s geophysicist receives €62,000, the commercial advisor €65,000 and the salaries of engineers are between €35,000 and €52.000.
The CHC hired staff between 2014 and 2016, the report said, without first getting the green light from the trade and commerce and finance ministries. It added that it is ‘unacceptable that a state-funded enterprise financed entirely by the state, such as the CHC, binds the state for years with inflexible expenditure without its prior approval’.
“We record in our report the insistence of the CHC board on acting without getting approval from the competent ministries,” Michaelides said.
He added that the CHC’s entire income comes from the government, which is in violation of a 2012 regulation on the state budget that stipulates that up to 50 per cent of the income of such companies may come from the state.
The CHC must also apply proportionally expenditure reductions imposed on the wider public sector, Michaelides said.
“There is contempt on behalf of the CHC for this matter,” Michaelides said.
Pending the response of the CHC board, Michaelides said, his service might suggest to the energy minister referral of the case to the attorney-general for civil liability, to seek compensation for possible damage suffered by the company and its shareholder, the Republic of Cyprus, due to the actions of its board.
The CHC was established in 2014 as a state-owned company, and has the mandate to act as the technical and commercial arm of the government on matters relating to exploration, production and monetization of oil and gas reserves from the country’s exclusive economic zone.