By Stefanos Evripidou
THE FIGHT against privatisations was made that much harder for semi-government organisations (SGOs) yesterday after allegations of dodgy practices on fuel purchases within telecoms authority CyTA were reported.
The allegations, if true, mean the authority is being cheated out of its money through a seemingly widespread scam regarding the refuelling of CyTA’s large fleet of vehicles, with the cost eventually being borne by the consumer.
According to yesterday’s Phileleftheros, the national audit office has called for a police investigation into possible criminal offences by CyTA employees and petrol station staff regarding the refuelling of CyTA’s fleet.
The paper wrote that the Auditor-general’s office had prepared a draft report on the matter which will be included in her annual report, usually handed over to the President in November of each year.
In the draft report, the audit office refers to CyTA’s internal audit department (IAD) which highlighted in its own report the fact that a possible scam was underway among certain drivers of CyTA’s fleet.
The IAD noted that drivers are able to record any number of kilometres they wish when refuelling, making almost meaningless the ‘Cytafleet’ software, developed to keep a record of the fleet’s maintenance history and costs.
As a result, in 2012, 48 of the 794 vehicles in the fleet, according to Cytafleet data, allegedly travelled outlandish distances for a small island, with some recording 899,000km of travel.
Between January 2010 and June 2012, according to Phileleftheros, the drivers of 71 cars repeatedly omitted (from four to 36 times each) to record the kilometres travelled with their car during refuelling.
Some cars were refuelled with an amount of fuel that was larger than the capacity of the tank.
The IAD reportedly carried out random tests, finding 31 cases where more fuel than tank capacity was purchased, with five cars recording the same irregularity more than once. In one case, 63 per cent more fuel than tank capacity was purchased.
The same report allegedly highlighted that some cars in the CyTA fleet recorded more fuel consumption than the previous year or than other cars of the same model.
For 14 cars, the difference was between 136 per cent and 297 per cent, while for two of those vehicles, the same discrepancy was highlighted in the last check undertaken.
The report gives as an example one car which had an average consumption of 7.19 litres of fuel per 100km in 2010, but in 2011, the same car had an average of 21.33 litres per 100km.
Also, the IAD found in four cases, the refuelling cards given to drivers to use at petrol stations, were used more than once on the same day and at the same time between March and May 2012. Two of those cases involved the same vehicle.
According to Phileleftheros, the IAD report was discussed by the CyTA board in July 2012 and a decision was taken for the CEO to launch disciplinary procedures against each one involved, without exception.
Three and a half months later, in November 2012, the auditor-general’s office questioned why the investigation was still ongoing, noting that the IAD report was pretty specific on facts and persons identified.
The AG’s office further highlighted that the report raises the issue of possible criminal charges against CyTA staff and petrol station workers and called on CyTA to involve the police as soon as possible
In April 2013, the audit office asked for an update from CyTA’s CEO and received no response.
In a separate issue of squandering of public or semi-public money, Politis yesterday reported that the Cyprus University of Technology (CUT) has paid €1 million to date for a building in Zakaki which it has rarely used.
The six-year contract for the Zakaki building was signed on February 1, 2009. However, CUT soon decided the building wouldn’t fit the purpose it was initially rented for due to its distance from the main campus, but also the cost of transforming the building to meet the specific department’s needs. Instead, it plans to see out the contract until 2015 and then give it up.
So, according to Politis, to date, the state university, and by extension the taxpayer, has paid €1m for an empty building it does not use and has no intention of using in the future.
In total, the taxpayer will fork out €1,331,264 for the building, which was only used once for a six-month stint by students two years ago.
A CUT official responsible for the management of university property told the paper that there were no plans to renew the contract but that CUT was bound to fulfil the current contract.
Politis reported that the issue has already been examined by the House Education and Watchdog Committees but that no measures were taken or statements made on the matter.
The Limassol-based state university reportedly spends €5.5m a year on rents.