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There can be no control without access to files, audit boss says

CNA

Auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides on Sunday hit out at an article in Politis asking ‘who controls the controller?’, saying the report was unethical and without substance.

In the article, Politis said there had been an increase in notifications to the office of the commissioner for personal data, from the audit office on access to certain government department files that contained personal data. The commissioner said that the auditor-general has a legal obligation to inform his office in advance of such actions.

According to the newspaper’s information, it said, the hike in requests was a concern among certain government officials about the actions of the audit office and many felt he was ‘terrorising them’, and accusation that has surfaced previously.

Politis said last month Michaelides had slammed the permanent secretary of a ministry who had hesitated in allowing access to files where personal data was an issue.

“The auditor-general had access to files without necessarily serving the aims of the audit office, which is the financial control of state spending,” the newspaper said.

By way of example, it said the audit office had access to the minutes of decisions of the ministry of health’s drug committee, which has the power to authorise certain drugs for certain patients if the meds are not widely available on the market in Cyprus. This was according to the annual report of the data commissioner, it said.

Politis said that under the constitution, the auditor-general can only have access to state accounts. It then cited a private legal opinion saying anything accessed by the audit office outside of state expenditure was illegal and that Michaelides was not empowered to investigate criminal offences.

In his response, Michaelides said that under the constitution, his office has the right to inspect not only accounts but any related receipts, expenses or files. This was also laid down in a 2002 law, he said.

“This practice is fully consistent with international standards and international practices of independent audit institutions worldwide and depriving the audit office of the right of access to records would mean nullifying it,” he said.

“There can be no control without access to files.”

Michaelides also expressed surprise that the newspaper had only now discovered that all records and statements, not only accounts details, have always been used in the audit office’s annual reports.

“The scope of the audit office control is to oversee [state] organisations and their employees, not the citizen,” he said. For example, he said, when the tax file that might involve a person is checked, the aim is to determine whether the tax department acted gratuitously against, or otherwise favored a particular person by its actions.

Repeating a previous soundbite, the written statement said: “What is legal is not always moral but what is illegal is always immoral.”

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