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Our view: Auditor general behaving like those he is supposed to be bringing into line

Auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides

FROM THE FIRST day he was appointed Auditor-General, Odysseas Michaelides looked like a man on a mission to right all the wrongs in the state machinery. He was in a big hurry to investigate and expose everything that was suspect in the public sector and become the scourge of civil servants who did not obey the rules or follow correct procedures in making decisions.

The message was that this was not a man to be messed with as he had no intention of adopting his predecessor’s approach, which involved listing all irregularities and procedural violations in the annual report prepared by the office. Michaelides was pro-active, undertaking investigations on his own initiative whenever he felt a matter merited it and leaking his findings to the media as a way of ensuring there would be no cover-up.

The zeal with which he applied himself to the job was welcomed and he regularly received plaudits from the media which benefited from his habit of leaking stories. He was on a crusade to clean up public life and everyone warmed to him while ignoring his rather immature quest for attention and publicity manifested through his continuous leaks to the media. Michaelides carried out investigations into a wide range of subjects, trivial as well as important.

To his credit, he uncovered the corruption at the Paphos Sewerage Board, the dodgy rent contracts signed by TEPAK (people have been charged), exposed the squandering of CyTA money on football broadcasting rights and has also been investigating the shady deals by the Nicosia and Larnaca sewerage boards. It is an impressive record after a year-and-a-half in the job. During this time he has also issued reports on minor issues (appointment of a teacher) and announced big scandals (CTO) that he never pursued.

Overall, based on job performance and results, he has proved one of President Anastasiades’ better appointments. In the last week, however, he has let himself down badly, his behaviour indicating that his successes and public approval had gone to his head and clouded his judgment. This is a charitable way of viewing his public spat with interior minister Socratis Hasikos over the issuing of student visas for 800 Bangladeshis based on allegedly forged documentation.

The reality, however, is that he behaved deviously and arrogantly, indicating that his main objective was to hurt Hasikos, with whom he had a public falling out over a government waste treatment contract renewal a few weeks ago. The row was re-kindled at a House committee meeting on Tuesday, Hasikos insisting Michaelides was exceeding his powers while also having a dig at his rampant publicity-seeking and leaking of correspondence with ministries to the press.

The following day it was reported that Michaelides had earlier written to the Attorney-General asking him to look into “possible criminal offences” by the interior ministry in issuing visas to 800 students from Bangladesh based on forged documentation. His suspicions were “based on verbal complaints and relevant correspondence.” Now the Auditor-General was acting on gossip, instead of facts, as no concrete evidence existed to back the forgery allegations. Hasikos, having failed to receive confirmation from state services that the documentation was actually forged, signed off the visas having taken additional precautions for 50 applicants whose documentation was suspect.

The minister took the right decision based on documentation at his disposal and Michaelides had no business requesting an investigation by the Attorney-General on the strength of gossip he had heard. What was Hasikos supposed to have done to satisfy Michaelides – reject the visa applications of 800 students because an honorary consul suspected they were forged? And what was Michaelides thinking, making insinuations against the minister in the press? Has he now decided to behave as shabbily as a populist politician throwing dirt against his opponents?

It is a pity that Michaelides, after so much good work, is behaving exactly like those public officials that he is supposed to bring into line – abusing his power with the sole objective of putting a minister in a difficult position and judging a case not on facts, as is his job, but on gossip he had heard. In pursuing Hasikos he has shown himself to be neither impartial nor objective in the exercise of his duties as Auditor-General, behaving more like a politician with a personal grudge than an independent state official.

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