By Elias Hazou
Nicosia bus company OSEL has shrugged off allegations that the outfit is being run like a family business, amid claims that spouses of company directors are getting fat salaries for doing no work at all.
The accusations are the latest in a series to rock the corporation, which has previously been investigated on allegations of embezzlement and fraudulent accounting.
A band of minor shareholders in the company, known as ‘PEAL O Klarios’, now claim that the wives of two major shareholders – also members of the board – are getting paid €1,650 for showing up at the office for only a few hours a month.
They say the two women were hired without a specific job title. And a number of managers at the company, whose monthly wages come to €4,500, also put in only a few hours a week, just to keep up appearances.
Moreover, at its last meeting, the OSEL board is said to have considered implementing a prior decision, by which all employees – save the drivers – would be laid off on reaching the retirement age of 65.
However – according to the same allegations – because this would have affected the father-in-law of a major OSEL shareholder it was decided instead that employees work until the age of 70.
The complaints were made in writing to Yiannis Nikolaides, acting head of the Road Transport Department (RTD), and copied to the auditor-general.
In their letter, the shareholders of ‘PEAL O Klarios’ note that their patience has run out. They go on to pose the question “from which funds are these persons being paid – employees and managers – who do not show up for work and offer nothing to OSEL?”
Speaking to the Cyprus Mail, OSEL chief and board chairman Iordanis Iordanous said these allegations were entirely unfounded.
He confirmed that the firm has hired two women who are the spouses of board members, but insisted there was nothing untoward in this arrangement.
“This is a private company after all,” he said.
The two women have been working there “normally” since 2012, he added. One is a clerk and the other is head of marketing and also a shareholder.
According to Iordanous, the claims come from a group of disgruntled shareholders, who are unhappy with coming changes at the company.
Auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides on Tuesday confirmed receipt of the complaint.
He said his office would be looking at the specific allegations once it has received OSEL’s accounts for 2011. Once OSEL files its accounts for that year, inspectors from both the auditor-general’s office and the RTD would carry out on-site inspections of the company and its books.
The company has promised to submit its 2011 accounts over the next couple of months.
Though a private corporation, OSEL is 80 per cent subsidised by the taxpayer. OSEL’s contract with the government stipulates that the state will audit the company’s accounts.
Back in July, allegations surfaced that OSEL had been misreporting revenues in order to increase the state subsidy it was entitled to. It’s understood that a police probe into this matter is still ongoing.
Nicosia’s public bus network was overhauled in 2010 as part of an island-wide revamp of the public transportation system. OSEL was created to run the Nicosia network with individual shareholders comprising the network and charging the company to use their buses and run routes. The government pays companies a rate per kilometre and leases the buses.
Six bus companies were created, one for intercity routes and five for Cyprus’ districts – Paphos, Limassol, Larnaca, Nicosia and Famagusta. Each company has a ten-year contract with the state.