As the public broadcaster, the Cyprus Broadcasting Corporation (CyBC) has an important role to play, but it must get its financial house in order so as not to unduly burden taxpayers, MPs said on Tuesday.
It was an all-too familiar admonition as lawmakers reviewed the auditor-general’s recently-released report on CyBC for 2015, which again pointed to waste and questionable business practices.
In 2014, the interior ministry had paid €40,000 for the preparation of a report whose purpose was to identify the structural changes needed at CyBC.
But the report subsequently ended up in a dustbin, AKEL MP Irini Charalambidou said.
She also cited the auditor-general’s observation that CyBC has been availing of the services of the same law firm since the 1960s.
This was the law firm, Charalambidou added, which had cleared CyBC to air a controversial interview with Greek pop singer Notis Sfakianakis. The broadcaster was later fined €26,000 for airing hate speech.
Greens MP George Perdikis said it was inconceivable, at a time when thrift was required and CyBC was in debt, that CyBC’s general manager should earn some €80,000 a year.
“CyBC’s finances are developing into a gangrene, and unfortunately the solutions that must be found will involve some bloodletting,” he remarked.
In his report on the public broadcaster, Auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides had said that in 2015 CyBC’s liabilities exceeded its assets by €9 million, even worse than the previous year (€7.2 million in the red).
Obligations to the employee pension fund accounted for the lion’s share of liabilities. According to an actuarial study, the fund posted an overall deficit of €119 million, indicating that CyBC was able to continue operating only due to continuous state support and owing to the fact it was not required to immediately pay what it owed back into the fund.
Meantime CyBC was far behind on collecting advertising fees. In 2015 the organisation was owed €1.35 million by advertising agencies, while lawsuits were filed for outstanding receivables worth some €543,000.
Another flag raised by the auditor-general concerned CyBC’s organising of cruises and the related expenses.
Michaelides opined that the cruises, which often feature celebrities, benefit the private cruiseliners rather than CyBC, and called on the organisation to carry out a cost-benefit analysis.
He also found that a number of staff were using these cruises for business purposes.
Additionally, CyBC did not seem to adequately vet its staff. In 2015, 11 people were hired without having furnished their academic qualifications. Meantime CyBC had yet to confirm the qualifications of 45 of their 91 full-time employees and of 155 of their 267 associates hired on open-ended contracts.
CyBC employees union SYTYRIK released a statement of their own on Tuesday panning successive governments for their heavy-handedness in dealing with the organisation.
Government’s solution was to simply slash the budget, which has thrown CyBC into disarray and turned it into “an ailing organisation.”
As a result of the untargeted cuts, SYTYRIK said, CyBC currently lacks both a full-time general manager (it has an acting general manager) and a head for the news department.
Meanwhile, the union complained, low-paid associates on open-ended contracts were being forced to carry out administrative duties in addition to their regular duties.