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Tales from the Coffeeshop: National reasons no longer good enough to fleece the taxpayer

Hasikos and Odysseas chewing the fat in more agreeable times

HOW PREDICTABLE that the government sided with the auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides instead of its own minister, Socratis Hasikos, after the public spat between the two over the extension of the waste management contract for the Koshi site.

The ‘presidency’ – in other words prez Nik – issued a statement buttering up Odysseas and urging him to be “uncompromising towards any state official found in an investigation to be involved in corruption.” It boasted that “the current government’s determination to stamp out corruption is a given,” and it had approved an extra 10 staff for the auditor-general’s office to make it more effective.
In other words, the presidency felt Hasikos was talking through his backside in criticising the meddling by Odysseas (he had done nothing wrong except leak letters he had written to Hasikos about the matter to Simerini) in the decisions of the executive and felt the urge to say so. But given its determination to stamp out corruption, the presidency had to be seen taking a stand in favour of Odysseas who is, after all, much more popular than Hasikos.
The government spokesman avoided comment as he could not imply that the government was in complete disagreement with one of its members. Only the presidency which has nothing to do with members of the government could hang Hasikos out to dry.

THE EXCHANGE between the two was sparked by the extension of the contract for the waste management site at Koshi announced by Hasikos in July. Odysseas pointed out that legally the government did not have the authority to extend the contract without inviting tenders and could be fined by the European Commission for doing so.
The interior minister had announced the extension of the contract in July, highlighting the fact that government had reduced the price it would be paying the contractor by almost 50 per cent, from €75 per tonne to €39.90. It sounded a major success, but the reality was that the original price was daylight robbery and we would now be paying a somewhat reasonable rate.
On Friday, Phil carried a story about the findings of an investigation into the Koshi contract, conducted by government officials. The report found that the provisions of the contract were geared completely in favour of the company, ensuring that it made super-profits at the expense of the taxpayer.
Interestingly, the investigation was ordered by Hasikos, who was incensed when he read through the contract as he felt it was ripping off the taxpayer on a grand scale. He was so outraged that he ordered an investigation, which was never made public until Phil’s report on Friday, because he wanted to terminate the contract.
In July however, he announced the extension of the contract by seven years, taking it to 2027, at the lower price. He was rewarding the contractor for ripping off the taxpayer with a seven-year extension to the contract which, as Odysseas pointed out, was in violation of the law.
As we very much doubt Hasikos would have sanctioned the extension given his fury over the original contract, we can only deduce that the presidency may have had something to do with it, but do not expect a statement from it taking responsibility any time soon.

THE KOSHI waste management contract was awarded, during the Papadop presidency, to a company of Greece’s Bombolas group, which has a sizeable shareholding in the Mega TV channel, publishes daily newspapers and runs several websites.
Before the signing of the contract, the auditor-general at the time, the infamous Crystal, went to Tassos and told him that its provisions were geared totally in favour of the contractor even passing extra costs incurred on to the government it was also grossly overpriced. Tassos, who was no fool, reportedly told Crystal that a premium price would be paid to Bombolas for national reasons.
The national reasons he was talking about were the campaign the journalists of Mega TV and the Bombolas newspapers had waged against the Annan plan in 2004 and in support of the Ethnarch’s heroic resistance to a settlement. The taxpayer would be paying Bombolas through the nose for waste management until 2020 because Tassos felt indebted to his news group for turning the Annan plan into toxic waste.
Could the seven-year extension to the contract be linked to the Bombolas media group backing a settlement plan this time? No, the new price for such an undertaking would have been higher not lower than the rip-off €70 per tonne.

THE WHOLE procedure for awarding the contract to Bombolas, during the Ethnarch’s incorruptible rule, was rigged.
The consultants that were hired to help the government prepare the specs for the tenders for the Koshi waste management were linked to the Bombolas group and ensured the specs and subsequently the contract was exactly what the group wanted. The bad advice given to the government by these consultants was mentioned in the report prepared by interior ministry officials, cited by Phil on Friday.
The rigging of the process in favour of Bombolas did not end there. The multi-page tenders’ document was published only in Greek and although this was lawful, it ensured against any foreign companies competing for the project. In the end only two Greek companies put in bids and the second tendered in order to give the impression a fair procedure had taken place.
Meanwhile, the same consultants that favoured Bombolas so blatantly were hired again to prepare the specs for the tenders for the Pentakomo waste management site and, not surprisingly, these were tailor-made for the Bombolas group. However some suspicious technocrats intervened and the specs were opened up, with the result that a local consortium won the contract. Its offer of €17 per tonne was one sixth the price we had been paying the Greek group.

WHAT had the incorruptible Crystal done about all these dodgy dealings that cost the taxpayer millions, when she was auditor-general? She kept quiet because the president had agreed for national reasons for the taxpayer to be fleeced.
Odysseas was on to the scam when he was appointed but although he initially made some noise about the contract he subsequently decided not to leak any information to the press about it. He just leaked to Simerini the two letters he had sent Hasikos warning him against extending the contract for procedural reasons.
And in the end the hapless Hasikos appeared like the bad guy – for having a go at Odysseas – when he was the only official who had spoken out against the scam, ordered an investigation and tried to put an end to it. He even presented the lowering of the price, coupled with contract extension, as a government success when he knew it was nothing of the sort.
And as a reward for being a team player and acting as a dutiful member of the government he was thrown to the dogs by the presidency. It seems a historical trend that Greeks have never treated men named Socratis fairly, but at least the presidency did not condemn Hasikos to death by poisoning.

Rector Constantinos Christofides
Rector Constantinos Christofides

OUR FRIEND the rector of Cyprus University Constantinos Christofides made a complete fool of himself last week. Having announced that the university would admit students from private schools on the strength of their IB or GCE exam results as long as they passed a test in Greek language two days later he said it would not.
Protests by members of the political-union nomenclature, led by the education minister, forced the rector to make an embarrassing 180-degree turn, which many (not this establishment) saw as an act of pure spinelessness.
After a meeting with the education minister, conducted in a ‘positive climate’, Christofides timidly gave in to the nomenclature’s diktats, fearing the university would otherwise be accused of being an independent institution. The UCy would wait for the opinion of the legal service on its plan to admit students not from the state school system but even if this was positive, it would not go ahead with the plan before the political parties had their say as well.
In the meantime ministry and uni would together draft rules for an alternative admissions procedure, which might be ready in a decade, after the approval of the teaching unions, deputies, ministry, parents associations, student groups and AKEL is secured.

DO-GOODER Commissioner for the Protection of the Rights of spoilt children Leda Koursoumba, who is always looking for a worthy, child-centred cause to justify her fat salary and lack of real work, had nothing to say about the legalised exclusion of private school-educated kids from the University of Cyprus. They have no rights for Koursoumba to protect.
Is state-sponsored discrimination against kids not worthy of a little moralising by the commissioner, or does she only protect the rights of children of state schools? On Friday, the start of the state school year, under-occupied Koursoumba issued a patronising message to secondary state school kids about rights, values and other didactic fluff in another transparent attempt to justify her salary.
To be fair, when she is not posing as Mother Teresa or a Mandela for kids she also deals with big issues such as the trousers of a poor student, which became a bone of contention between the education minister and a kids’ union.

CYPRUS News Agency, also known as Tass from the days it was its Ethnarch’s voice, last weekend reported that the presidents of the two chambers of commerce “were guests on a programme of the illegal Bayrak station, in the occupied area.”
Was it necessary to mention the geographical location of the station given that everyone knows that if it was illegal it had to be in the occupied area? Is it not wrong for the news agency of a recognised state like Tass to report what an illegal station was broadcasting?
The show could have been illegal and by covering it there was a danger not only of Tass being an accessory to a crime, but also of upgrading the pseudo-state, in which Bayrak is the pseudo-public broadcaster.
Illegal Bayrak has been broadcasting illegally for close to half a century as far as I know – much longer than any of our legal, private stations and for many years before the establishment of the pseudo-state – so Tass could show it a little respect if only for its staying power, even if it is funded by the Turkish taxpayer.

‘GAUL VILLAGE’, an internet group, sent an email publicising a ‘discussion/event’ about the Cyprob, ominously titled, ‘Cyprus problem: the last act of the drama? CBM, momentum and ambient atmosphere.’
You did not have to read who the guest speakers were to conclude that the Cypriot Gauls were in favour of the Turkish occupation troops remaining in Kyproulla indefinitely so they could carry on their brave war of resistance in the cafés and bars of the country.
The Asterix of the gathering was a Costas Kendas, a regular guest on the Lazarus patriotic radio show. I was not able to attend and hear from where the Cypriot Asterix proposed we obtained the magic potion that would make us invincible.

THE DECONSTRUCTION of Akinci, urged by the bearded Lillikas a few weeks ago, is gathering coffee3-akincimomentum. This week no fewer than four newspaper columnists put him in his place because he had misinterpreted a poem by renowned Greek Alexandrian poet Kavafis. The mean-spiritedness of the hacks was very amusing, their overall message being ‘how dare the Turk misinterpret our poet’s verse for his propaganda purposes’, even though this was obviously not his intention. Not one of them acknowledged the possibility he may have misunderstood the poem, because that would have portrayed him as human, which we know he is not.
Meanwhile, in his column last week, Michalis Ignatiou promised he would “return to Akinci as we are searching for his suspicious ‘paths’ in the previous decade.” He should stop his search now because I can tell him what happened.
Akinci was kidnapped in 2007 by Grey Wolves, who kept him in a dark cave in the depths of Anatolia for five years feeding him with Turkish nationalist propaganda and programming his brain to become more intransigent than Eroglu.

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