JUST because the law is routinely violated is no excuse for inaction when illegality is spotted, Auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides said on Tuesday, referring to Finance minister Harris Georgiades’ attempt to justify Savia Orphanidou’s status as both civil servant and party official.
Orphanidou is a ruling Disy official and Finance ministry employee, and was recently appointed to the European Investment Bank.
When Michaelides first broached the issue last month, he had argued that Orphanidou may have been violating the law by holding posts in a political party – she is a member of Disy’s political bureau – and the public service, without the legally-required permission of the Public Service Commission.
By law, such permission is required for all civil servants, over the A7 pay-scale, wishing to hold senior offices in political parties.
In a letter to Georgiades, the auditor-general, who had cited a complaint filed by Akel MP Irene Charalambidou, asked the finance minister to launch a disciplinary probe into Orphanidou’s actions, and also explain how she came to be selected for appointment to the EIB in January, a move widely regarded as being politically-driven.
Georgiades had replied that Orphanidou had been in no conflict because her election to the party’s political bureau had preceded the 2015 law that made PSC permission for political and public-service office mandatory.
On a political talk-show last Thursday, Georgiades returned to the issue, arguing that her targeting was “unfair” and “suspect”.
He blamed Disy’s leadership for not doing enough to protect her from vilification.
“What I can clearly say now is that I will not accept the targeting of a civil servant just because an opposition MP requested the auditor-general to do so, much less when instances of civil servants routinely participating in parties’ bodies abound,” he told state broadcaster CyBC.
He made the argument that Orphanidou was hardly the only civil servant who holds a party post.
Georgiades said he has ordered an administrative probe, which will be on his desk “next week”.
In a statement on Tuesday, Michaelides rejected the finance minister’s arguments, saying that, per the 2015 law, PSC permission for civil servants to hold party posts may only be granted if “the duties of their post in public service are not, in any way, compromised or affected by holding the relevant office in a political party”.
In any case, however, the law prior to 2015 only allowed civil servants to be “mere members of a political party, not hold senior posts”.
Further, the auditor-general said, the finance minister is “obliged” to launch a disciplinary probe against employees at his ministry who may have violated the law, and inform other ministers accordingly if he becomes aware of employees of other ministries doing so.
“We stress the word ‘obliged’, because it has been reaffirmed in several legal opinions by the Attorney-general,” Michaelides said.
There is no equality in illegality, Michaelides said, therefore “the minister’s reference to civil servants who hold office in political parties “parading television and radio shows on a daily basis is no argument for tolerating such behaviour from the civil servant in question”.
“No one is allowed to intervene in favour of any civil servant,” Michaelides noted.
“It is well-known that interfering either in favour or against anyone in connection with disciplinary proceedings is an illegal act. Even though it is redundant, we must remind that members of political parties may not be considered above the law.”