AUDITOR-GENERAL Odysseas Michaelides is, justifiably, highly-regarded by our society for the work he does in investigating irregularities by the authorities and exposing corruption. He may use the media more often than he should, but this is understandable, to an extent, as publicity places additional pressure on the state authorities to take action. Without public exposure scandals would have been swept under the carpet as had been the past practice.
Michaelides, however, must avoid getting involved in politics and undertaking politically-motivated investigations as he has decided to do with regard to the staging of Antigone at Salamis. This was not the first time he has undertaken such an investigation. A couple of months ago, after indignant press reports about a group of Cypriot students and their teachers flying to Trabzon in Turkey to participate in world games, on Turkish airline Pegasus, he took the initiative to investigate.
It was completely unnecessary, but he felt obliged to act because of the outcry by some of the super-patriotic, political parties. And to make matters worse, he ludicrously pointed out that the travel agent that issued the tickets of the students had written ‘Istanbul’ as a destination, instead of ‘Constantinople’ on them. This was the best his politically-motivated investigation could come up with, because there had been no suspicions of procedure violations.
Having not learnt his lesson from this embarrassing experience which does no good to his otherwise good standing, he has now decided to investigate the Cyprus Theatre Organisation (Thoc) because he had received a letter of complaint about the staging of Antigone in Salamis from the Diko leader Nicholas Papadopoulos. Speaking on state radio on Monday, he said he felt obliged to carry out an investigation, after receiving a letter from a party leader. Since when does an independent state official take orders about what he should investigate from a party leader?
From the letter he should have known that Papadopoulos’ motives were political. The Diko leader had asked the monumentally absurd question, whether Thoc had secured a permit from the antiquities department to stage the play at Salamis. Was an investigation by the auditor-general necessary to answer this question? Aware that such an investigation would be meaningless Michaelides announced he would also check the procedures followed by Thoc and its spending on the performance.
This is persecution of Thoc by the auditor-general because he disapproved, on political grounds, of a decision the organisation had taken. What was the urgency of investigating the spending of Thoc on the specific play now? Does he do this for every play staged by the organisation? No such zeal to investigate was displayed last year, when another Thoc play was staged at Salamis. The normal practice is for an audit of Thoc to be carried out in the context of the auditor-general’s annual report.
Only if there were grounds, to believe there had been irregularities, would an investigation have been justified now. There were none – just a complaint by a party leader with an axe to grind. Michaelides, if he wanted to protect the institution of the auditor-general, would have told Papadopoulos there was nothing to investigate instead of pandering to his whims, like some lowly official.