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Cyprus

Ministers in spat over waste scandal

Interior minister Socratis Hasikos

The waste management scandal, which has led to the arrests of state and municipal officials among others, was the cause of a public spat between interior minister Socratis Hasikos and his predecessor AKEL’s Neoklis Sylikiotis on Tuesday as to who bears responsibility for the tender procedures.

The spat began on a state broadcaster CyBC TV show when Sylikiotis, interior minister between 2006 and 2007 during the Presidency of Tassos Papadopoulos and between 2008 and 2012 under Demetris Christofias, blamed the current government for the mess over the two contracts for the Koshi (Larnaca) and Marathounda (Paphos) waste management plants.

Both contracts were awarded to Helector, a Greek company. Helector’s chairman Leonidas Bobolas, a Greek national, is currently fighting an arrest warrant issued by Cypriot authorities in connection with the scandal, which has so far seen 12 suspects indicted.

Helector was reporting higher waste volumes resulting in higher charges for local authorities and consumers for the Marathounda waste management plant in Paphos. The initial arrests for Marathounda led to a parallel investigation into the Koshi site. From the overcharging alone, the company is said to have raked in some €42m over the years.

Despite that the contracts were signed during his term as minister, Sylikiotis said that no competent authority that had looked into the contracts found anything reprehensible, neither the tender review committee nor the Auditor-general’s reports. It is during the implementation of the projects one sees the flaws, he said, and pointed the finger at the current government.

He said that since it emerged in 2013 after an investigation that the (Koshi) contract was “not quite right”, Hasikos, instead of cancelling it, negotiated its extension with Helector by seven years.

As regards Marathounda, Sylikiotis said that that contract expired in 2015, but the government extended it for a year and then by another six months without announcing a tender competition. He said that the current government bears “political responsibility”.

Hasikos said in response that there are indeed political responsibilities but not of his own government.

“They made the mess, but now it is our fault for trying to clean it?” Hasikos said.

He said that the findings of the 2013 independent probe into the Koshi contract, which he ordered, showed administrative responsibilities, and possible criminal offences.

“I might add that there were also top political responsibilities,” Hasikos said.

He added that the findings of the probe were “immediately given” to the Attorney General, the Auditor-general and relevant House committees.

The report also named ministry officials, Hasikos said, but the AG informed us that they could not find anything and that the police could not secure evidence to proceed with arrests.

He also said that they had to negotiate the contract with Helector on Koshi because people were paying a very high price for waste management, but that as soon as arrests began, the government negotiating team decided to cancel the contract.

As regards the Marathounda contract, he said, he was not involved at all. He said that he had allowed a six-month extension of the contract, in agreement with the Auditor-general, to give time the new management board to “deal with the issue”.



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