If anyone has lost their seriousness it is Finance Minister Harris Georgiades, not the state’s independent institutions, Attorney-general Costas Clerides said on Tuesday.
The AG was responding to remarks earlier in the day by Georgiades on a legal opinion the minister had asked for.
In it, Clerides told Georgiades in no uncertain terms that he is legally obliged to launch a disciplinary probe against ministry employee Savia Orphanidou, who, in being elected to ruling Disy’s political bureau, violated the law mandating that all civil servants over the A7 pay scale require permission by the Public Service Commission (PSC) before accepting party posts.
Although acknowledging that Orphanidou had, in fact, been in breach of the law, Georgiades had argued that dozens of civil servants from across party lines had been doing so for decades, and the state had been turning a blind eye.
Following Clerides’ opinion last week, the minister said that the competent authorities must now order disciplinary probes into all such cases that come to their attention.
Georgiades had addressed a letter to Clerides some two weeks ago seeking an opinion to settle his public row with Auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides, who insisted that the finance minister was obliged by law to launch a probe against Orphanidou.
The dispute between the two men began in April following a probe by the audit office, acting on a complaint filed by Akel MP Irene Charalambidou, concerning Orphanidou. Michaelides asked Georgiades to launch a probe into Orphanidou’s dual capacity as a civil servant and a party official, without obtaining permission from the PSC as per the law, and her appointment to the European Investment Bank in January.
The audit office asked for explanations as to how she came to be selected for appointment to the bank, a move widely seen as being politically motivated. 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. Orphanidou has held a Disy post since 2012.
In his legal opinion, the AG told Georgiades that if any civil servant held any post in any political party from 1991 to 2015, he or she had been in violation of the law, and if civil servants, serving at the A8 pay scale or higher since 2015, hold party posts without permission, they continue to be in violation.
Speaking to state broadcaster CyBC, Georgiades said on Tuesday that he would ask for clarifications as to the handling of the case, as it appears that this ruling concerns a large number of civil servants, and that he would take it to the cabinet for discussion.
“This issue, following the ruling of the AG, does not concern only one civil servant, but all of them, and specifically, not only those on the A8 pay scale and above,” Georgiades said. He added that those civil servants holding a party office regardless of pay scale up to the summer of 2015 “and for a period of 25 years they were breaking the law”.
According to the AG’s ruling, Georgiades said, “competent authorities have no choice and will have to launch disciplinary probes into all case that come to their attention”.
The minister said that as this concerns a very large number of civil servants, he would ask to make sure whether this also concerned those who had been holding party office but who had recently obtained permission from the PSC, or those who no longer hold party office, but had one in the past.
It appears, he said, that in these two cases, “the illegality is not waived, nor the obligation for a disciplinary probe”.
Georgiades reiterated that he found it unfortunate that this whole case led to the targeting of a single civil servant, Orphanidou. “If we were a serious state and the institutions were serious, we would deal with this differently than targeting one person”.
Reacting to this comment, Clerides issued a harsh statement blasting the minister.
“I am saddened to note that, if someone has lost their seriousness, it is not the state’s independent institutions, who are trying to set right various wrongs, but the minister himself, who undermines them in an attempt to perpetuate what had been tolerated for decades,” Clerides said.
Michaelides told the Cyprus News Agency on Tuesday that he has sent Georgiades a letter with the remarks of the audit office as to the appointment of Orphanidou to the EIB and has asked the minister to submit any comments by Thursday for a report to be prepared which is to be sent to the House watchdog committee. The committee is to discuss the issue on May 11, Michaelides said.