Attorney-General Costas Clerides should have thought twice before issuing an announcement publicly accusing Finance Minister Harris Georgiades of showing contempt for the opinion of the State Legal Service and the AG with regard to the audit of the Co-operative Central Bank (CCB). He could have handled the matter discreetly, making his points in a letter to the minister rather than needlessly turning it into public issue.
Was Clerides following the example set by auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides whose side he had taken in the latter’s dispute with the government over the CCB? Michaelides had decided to carry out an audit of the CCB, which is 99 per cent state-owned after the government bailed it out with an injection of €1.7 billion, but Georgiades insisted that he should not as the CCB should have been treated as a bank rather than a state organisation. The minister felt that by treating it as a state-owned company it would be forced to follow bureaucratic procedures and not be able to cope in a competitive market.
Michaelides, however, insisted that he had the authority to carry out an audit and was supported by Clerides who had been asked to issue an opinion. Georgiades ignored his opinion, telling a radio show on Tuesday “there are courts which ultimately interpret whether something is legal or not.” Clerides took exception to this comment, claiming the minister had the Legal Service’s opinion and by blatantly ignoring it he was violating “constitutional provisions.” Georgiades’ defiance was not restricted to words – members of the audit office who turned up at the CCB yesterday for an audit were not allowed into the premises, as had happened two weeks earlier.
In a way, both sides are right. Georgiades is correct in not wanting the CCB to operate like a state organisation, following time-consuming bureaucratic procedures, because it would be at a disadvantage with the other banks and unable to compete. This is why a bill has been prepared (it is expected to be put to the vote in the House on Friday) preventing the auditor-general from auditing the CCB.
Michaelides has said that all his office would do is carry out an administrative audit which included a compliance audit, as a private auditing firm had done the bank’s accounts, thus admitting that he wanted to ensure bureaucratic procedures were followed. We suspect he would be looking at the dubious way in which the CCB’s CEO Nicholas Hadjiyiannis was hired in 2015. He was hired by a board of which he was chairman at the time, without the vacancy being properly advertised and without him having all the qualifications needed for the job.
As things have developed, Georgiades appears like he is trying to cover up the dubious appointment procedure by insisting that Michaelides had no business auditing the CCB. A correct position is seen to have ulterior motives, which Michaelides has decided to expose as part of his ongoing feud with the government. And by publicly taking sides with yesterday’s public reprimand of the minister, the attorney-general has created the impression that there is a power struggle between state officials and the government.