THERE are plenty of scandals listed in the Auditor-general’ report for 2015 that was handed to the president on Tuesday. It recorded €1.29 billion in uncollected taxes, €246 million in unexecuted warrants (challenged by the justice minister), the granting of arbitrary discounts to private business and much more. The irregularities are countless as are the weaknesses in the operation of state services, but they are not all the products of law-breaking.
For instance, the general overseas allowance (GOA) paid to ambassadors, over and above their allowances for rent, travel, domestic help, phone bills and school fees for their children are scandalous but not illegal. These were agreed many years ago and allowed ambassadors to double their earnings when posted abroad, on the grounds that the cost of living in the countries where they served was much higher than in Cyprus. Nowadays there are very few countries in which we have embassies where the cost of living is higher than that of Cyprus, but GOA is now a diplomat’s right.
The total cost of GOA in 2015 was €5.8 million as it was significantly increased for some ambassadors – in the case of the ambassador in Qatar by as much as €27,000 per year. The government had the opportunity to drastically cut this unnecessary expense in 2013, but in the end cut it by only 15 per cent, while last year it started increasing it. There is no illegality here, but there must be some transparency on how GOA is calculated as well as the criteria used. The auditor-general should seek explanations, which could be passed on to the taxpayer.
Other cases in the 2015 report should lead to police investigations. The case of the company that leased land and a warehouse from the state for 12 years, at a total cost of €80,000 and subleased this to the state’s Pharmaceutical Services for €1.7 million during this period smacks of corrupt dealings that need to be investigated. The auditor-general does not need permission from anyone to refer such cases to the attorney-general and for all we know Odysseas Michaelides may have already done so.
The authorities must launch investigations into the most glaringly suspicious cases mentioned in the auditor-general’s report otherwise there is no point in drafting it every year. We know it is impossible to right all the wrongs and irregularities contained in it, but its publication every year should trigger a few investigations, to show people that its drafting was not a pointless exercise as well as to prove to the auditor-general’s staff that their work is not meaningless.