THE president’s request for a list of incidents where the auditor-general has interfered in ministers’ work and cost the state money will undermine the Audit Service’s independence and is an attempt to intimidate him, Akel said on Monday.
The claim that President Nicos Anastasiades has asked his ministers for examples of the costly intrusiveness of the auditor-general, Odysseas Michaelides, was reported by local daily Alithia, which is associated with Interior Minister Socratis Hasikos, in its Sunday edition.
Hasikos and Michaelides have maintained a long-standing turf-war, which has at times appeared to verge on a personal vendetta between the two men, though the interior minister is by no means the only member of cabinet incensed with the auditor-general.
“Auditor General Odysseas Michaelides’ interference, oftentimes outside his remit, in the work of the executive branch of government seems to have come to a head,” the paper wrote.
“In a recent cabinet meeting, various ministers aired specific complaints, and President Nicos Anastasiades asked all ministers to submit to the body a list each of instances where decisions or interventions by the Audit Service ultimately cost the government money.”
One indicative case, the paper argued, was Michaelides’ scuppering of a deal clinched between the interior ministry and the operators of the solid-waste management facility at Koshi, Larnaca, in 2015, which would have brought down processing fees from €75 to €39 per tonne.
In the latest instalment of the quarrel between the two, Hasikos found himself indicted by the Committee on Conflicts of Interest for renting out office space he personally co-owns to a government department – elected officials doing business with the state being expressly forbidden by law – after Michaelides referred his findings to the committee.
“If it is true that the president instructed his ministers to prepare a list of the cost of the Auditor General’s actions, in our view this constitutes undermining of the office’s independence and an attempt to intimidate him,” Akel spokesman Stefanos Stefanou told a news conference on Monday.
“For quite some time, the government has been in a permanent row with the independent Audit Service, as they have unfortunately with other independent institutions and offices.”
In a 2015 statement, the cabinet had censured Michaelides for “public behaviour that undermines the credibility and seriousness of the institution”, while reaffirming its “full respect to credible procedures of transparency, control, and accountability”.
Since his appointment in 2014, in addition to Hasikos, Michaelides has been involved in public quarrels with Education Minister Costas Kadis, Agriculture Minister Nicos Kouyialis, and Finance Minister Harris Georgiades, as well as former ministers who have since left the government.