Cyprus Mail

University to take over work on toothless incompatibility bill

Former Attorney-general Alecos Markides admitted to the complexity of the matter

By Angelos Anastasiou

THE amendment of a toothless bill regulating conflict of interest between public office and private enterprise will be assigned to University of Cyprus experts, according to local press reports yesterday.

The original bill, dating back to 2006 when it was first tabled, was voted into law in 2008, but not before being rendered useless as various deputies attached amendments that suited their individual professional capacities.

For example, a 2011 amendment to the law exempted public officials that sit on the board of, own equity in, or legally represent, public organisations, if said organisations promote sport or the arts, thus letting deputies who offer legal advice to the Cyprus Sports Organisation and the Cyprus Theatre Organisation off the hook.

Following such shenanigans and for fear of a public outcry, it was decided two years ago that the law should be revisited, but not by the House itself. Instead, legal assistance was sought from the private sector, and former Attorney-general Alecos Markides answered the call, agreeing to waive his fee.

But even Markides admitted to the complexity of the matter, raising the possible need of a constitutional amendment, so party leaders decided to refer the matter to the University of Cyprus.

To this end, a meeting will be arranged in the coming days between the House chairman, the Ethics committee chairman, Markides, and the UCy rector, in order to agree on a timeline to the required amendments.

The issue of incompatibility between holding public office and private ventures was recently in the limelight, after it was revealed that Central Bank governor Chrystalla Georghadji’s daughter was employed by a law firm owned by Georghadji’s estranged husband, which represented former Laiki Bank strongman Andreas Vgenopoulos, with whom the Central Bank is in legal disputes over his role in the lender’s failure.

It was then argued that Georghadji’s position at the CBC helm was incompatible with a first-degree relative representing a legal adversary. Georghadji’s daughter finally relented and resigned her job, without acknowledging any wrongful or inappropriate act.

President Nicos Anastasiades subsequently found himself in the spot, after the law firm he founded, owned and ran until he assumed the duties of President was found to have been engaged as legal consultants by one of the suitors for Cyprus Airways, then in search of a strategic investor to take it over.

Faced with charges of incompatibility, Anastasiades lashed out at critics arguing that he no longer had “any relationship” with the law firm, ownership of which he had passed to his daughters upon taking office.

And when, last December, in the aftermath of the very public debate on incompatibility, Justice minister Ionas Nicolaou announced he was “suspending the operation” of his law firm, he was doing so voluntarily, because current legislation does not forbid holders of public office from practising private professions, with very few – explicitly described in the 2008 legislation – exceptions.

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