The decision by President Anastasiades to appoint a relatively young lawyer of limited experience as ombudsperson has drawn justified criticism, with several opposition parties indicating they would reject the appointment when it is sent to the legislature for approval. It would not be the first time a presidential appointee for this post would have been rejected by the legislature – academic Andreas Kapardis, chosen by President Christofias in 2011, was turned down by the House because of his close ties to the president.
There is little doubt that the appointment of Maria Stylianou Lottides was a result of nepotism. She is the spouse of one of the publishers of Kathimerini newspaper who enjoy very close personal ties with Anastasiades and have benefited from presidential favours. For instance, the taxpayer, inexplicably, subsidises the music TV channel run by the company to the tune of €90,000 a year while the government was prevented, at the last minute, from arbitrarily awarding a lucrative school software contract to the company a few years ago.
In a letter published in Phileleftheros on Tuesday, honorary president of the Cyprus Stop Trafficking association Androulla Christofidou Henriques openly questioned the president’s choice and made the following point: “It is not possible, consequently, to create a picture of wheeler-dealing, or ‘give and take’, in the procedure for the selection of ombudsperson because, in the end, what is undermined is the ability of this important, independent authority to perform its job.”
Indeed, it would be deeply ironic if the ombudsperson, who has the responsibility of investigating complaints by citizens against illegalities, arbitrary decisions and abuses of power by the state, was the beneficiary of the kind of act she should be investigating. As Ms Henriques wrote, for citizens to appeal to the ombudsperson “they must, first of all, trust both the prestige of the institution, as well as the impartiality and the independence of the ombudsperson as an individual.” An ombudsperson appointed for no other reason than her family’s close ties to the president cannot be viewed as independent.
Whether Anastasiades would secure adequate party support to have the appointment approved remains to be seen. What is particularly worrying is the way the president has recently reverted to the nepotistic practices of the past. Two other appointments made earlier this year smacked of nepotism – the new general manager of CyBC and the new director of the Public Information Office – but this is perhaps to be expected a year before elections.