Further details have emerged concerning a well-connected primary school teacher who was seconded to the education minister’s office only for her to end up in Brussels, where she spent three months drawing a full salary.
The case relates to the teacher, Despo Sergiou, and her husband who had already been appointed to Cyprus’ Permanent Representation to the European Union (PREE).
The husband, Costas Ktoris, a Central Bank employee, was one of the finance ministry’s appointees to the PREE in the Belgian capital.
Sergiou, a member of ruling DISY’s political bureau, wanted to join her husband in Brussels but was apparently unwilling to take unpaid leave, seeking to be seconded herself to Brussels.
According to a report by Auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides, who has tracked the case all along, in February 2015 Ktoris made a false statement to the foreign ministry that his spouse – who was teaching in Cyprus – would be living permanently in Brussels, and applied for a diplomatic passport for her.
In June 2015 the husband stated falsely that Sergiou was living with him in Brussels, in order to secure a higher allowance for the house he was renting there.
On June 12, Education Minister Costas Kadis initiated procedures for opening up an additional post for the education ministry at the PREE.
Meantime the auditor-general had got wind of the irregular goings-on and began querying the foreign ministry.
On August 19 the foreign ministry informed Michaelides that no extra position existed at the PREE, nor was there any need for it, and as such the education ministry’s request could not be processed.
Sergiou meanwhile had enrolled her daughter in a primary school in Brussels, and in mid-September managed to secure a four-day ‘rest leave’ which she used to accompany her daughter to the Belgian capital.
On November 9, in an apparent bid to circumvent the foreign ministry, the education ministry requested that a second post at the PREE be assigned directly to the office of the education minister, rather than to the education ministry as previously.
This request was approved on November 13. Immediately the education minister’s office informed the Educational Service Commission (ESC) of the need to find a replacement for the Sergiou as she would not be teaching in Cyprus.
On November 20 the ministry’s permanent secretary informed the ESC in writing that Sergiou, the primary school teacher, had been seconded to the minister’s office – whereas it is the ESC which decides on secondments.
Five days later, the ESC announced Sergiou’s secondment, without mentioning for how long it was effective. Three months later, the ESC notified Sergiou that her secondment was effective as of November 16.
However, on November 8, a Sunday, and even before approval of the secondment was requested, Sergiou was verbally informed that she was being seconded to the minister’s office.
On November 12, some two weeks before the secondment was published, Sergiou departed for Brussels.
According to the auditor-general, during the time she was seconded to the minister’s office, Sergiou was working out of the residence rented by her husband in Brussels, since she could not be accredited with the PREE.
Over a three-month period, she participated in eight meetings, which worked out to fewer than three per month.
Essentially, it appears that Sergiou was looking after her daughter while drawing a government salary even though she should have been on unpaid leave during this time.
Then, on November 2014, another education ministry official who was accredited with the PREE, secured a ‘national expert’ contract with the European Commission and notified the PREE that she would be vacating her position.
On January 21, 2016, the education ministry’s permanent secretary requested from the foreign ministry that Sergiou be formally seconded to Brussels to replace the other official who was leaving.
On February 2, a story appeared online describing the whole affair. Five days later, Sergiou returned to Cyprus, at a time coinciding with her daughter’s half term. She has not returned to Brussels since.
Meanwhile the auditor-general asked the education ministry to advertise the vacated post as per proper procedure. He also advised that Sergiou return the three months’ worth of salaries and that her stay in Brussels be categorised as unpaid leave.
The ministry complied and advertised the position on April 7. And on April 20, the education minister informed the auditor-general that the three months’ salaries would henceforth be deducted from Sergiou’s future earnings – an admission that her secondment to Brussels was irregular and thus null and void.
Meantime, 11 applications were submitted for the vacant position in Brussels. On June 6, the evaluation panel gave Sergiou an excellent rating – the only candidate to receive this grade – and selected her for the secondment to the PREE.
The cabinet approved Sergiou’s secondment to Brussels, which covers the time period September 1, 2016 to July 31, 2017, with an option for an extension.
According to Phileleftheros, the education ministry’s permanent secretary Aigli Pantelaki refused to furnish the auditor-general with certain information on Sergiou’s case, citing privacy laws. In addition, the paper reports that the auditor-general has yet to receive word from the central bank on whether it has launched an internal inquiry on the role played by Sergiou’s spouse.
Following the publicity over the affair, the House watchdog committee has tabled the matter for discussion. The committee will be looking not only at Sergiou’s case, but also reviewing in general the procedures by which government employees are seconded to the PREE in Brussels and the much-coveted benefits they are entitled to.