Cyprus Mail

‘National experts’ find it hard to give up Brussels gravy train

The European Commission

Because ministries and other government departments have abused a 2014 government decision introducing the post of Seconded National Experts (SNEs) to the seat of the European Union, all such applications should be reviewed by the foreign ministry first, according to a proposal tabled by permanent secretary Alexandros Zenon.

In a letter to Attorney-general Costas Clerides, copied to parliament, the audit service, the heads of the educational service commission and the public service commission, as well as his counterparts at all other ministries, Zenon claimed that a 2014 cabinet decision to allow the introduction of secondments to Brussels for civil servants as ‘national experts’ in areas of interest to the government was “not being implemented”.

“According to the cabinet decision, dated August 27, 2014, such secondments must be targeted to areas of special interest to Cyprus, which are defined annually on the basis of the government’s policy,” Zenon argued.

“Additionally, the focus of the secondments should be placed on areas in which there is no expertise, with a view to educating Cypriot staff, so that knowledge and expertise can be transferred back to Cyprus. It has been observed that, instead of implementing the cabinet’s decision, the vast majority of applications forwarded relate to officers of ministries and departments already working at [Cyprus’] Permanent Representation to the European Union (PREE), in some cases for over 10 years, often in pursuit of personal expediencies, and not in the interest of the public service and the Republic.”

The foreign ministry, Zenon added, has a clear picture of the situation, with specific examples proving that officers from other ministries or agencies serving at the PREE, whose service cannot be extended or renewed, attempt to remain in Brussels through their secondment as national experts, “often citing baseless reasons”.

“The result of this practice is that ministry and agency officers who have worked in Brussels do not transfer their experiences back to Cyprus,” Zenon wrote.

“In some cases, officers from certain ministries and agencies have been serving in Brussels almost since Cyprus was admitted to the European Union, returning to Cyprus for only a short period of a few months before their secondment is renewed.”

Zenon cited other examples, without naming names, where ministry officers under investigation for criminal offences have been allowed to apply for secondment, while an agency officer applied and was allowed to be seconded to Brussels without his agency having appointed his replacement.

“In another recent occasion, a ministry officer serving his second term at the PREE was approved by his ministry for a secondment completely unrelated to his department, which would have produced no benefit to the government,” Zenon charged.

The foreign ministry permanent secretary signed off his letter saying that his office is in contact with the auditor-general regarding procedures that should be followed by ministries and agencies.

“The practice of ministries and agencies sending applications for secondment directly to the PREE must be ended,” Zenon wrote.

“I hereby request that all applications are henceforth sent to the foreign ministry, for the attention of the European Union directorate, for evaluation and forwarding to the PREE.”

In a statement on Thursday, DIKO called for the full investigation of Zenon’s claims.

“Mr Zenon’s claims are extremely serious and must be investigated in depth immediately,” the party said.

Socialists EDEK also deemed the allegations “extremely serious” and demanded that Zenon make the names of the people he referred to in his letter public.

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