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Tough ministry rudderless after Hasikos’ resignation (Update 3)

Socratis Hasikos

Interior Minister Socratis Hasikos submitted his resignation to President Nicos Anastasiades on Tuesday night citing personal reasons, it was announced on Wednesday.

He is to stay on for 15 days after a request by the president.

Speaking to reporters at the Presidential Palace after Wednesday’s cabinet meeting, Hasikos confirmed that he had handed in his resignation letter saying: “I spoke last night to the president rather than to the cabinet today. I have submitted my resignation. The issues my family has been going through for the last nine months are known. I tried many times with the president [to submit a resignation] to be honest. I tried another three times to quit but the president did not accept my resignation.”

“Today however the whole situation leaves me no other choice. The government and the ministry are one thing… I have excellent relations with the president… but on the other hand I have the needs of my family…” he added.

It is widely known that Hasikos’ wife is very sick, and last year the minister spent weeks in the UK with her when she had to go for treatment.

The president said that Hasikos’ resignation will be a great loss to the government.

“I want to express my uttermost satisfaction with the work he has produced. It will definitely be a loss to the government,” Anastasiades said.

He added that Hasikos’ resignation concerned “personal matters that no one can prevent”.

“He had sought to resign three other times, I begged him to remain in his post but it seems there is no other way”.

Anastasiades said that he has yet to decide on who is to replace the outgoing minister.

Government spokesman, Nicos Christodoulides told Cybc the president would move to replace Hasikos in the coming days but ruled out any cabinet reshuffle. “Although the issue is the exclusive prerogative of the President of the Republic, there are currently no such thoughts,” he said.

There is some concern however as to the interior ministry remaining rudderless as its permanent secretary Costas Nicolaides is due to retire on June 1. According to Politis, the ministry asked for a six-month extension for Nicolaides to help see through the massive programme of reform of local government.

“For unknown reasons, the president did not accept the extension of the mandate,” the paper said.

Hasikos, who was appointed on March 1, 2013 and has been outspoken on almost every issue under his portfolio – a characteristic that has often seen him butt heads loudly and publicly with detractors – has been a strong proponent of local government reform.

Only last month he said the current local authority model in Cyprus is outdated, the number of municipalities is excessive, and they are overstaffed. The financial crisis had uncovered the chronic problems of mismanagement, lack of checks, and overstaffing “which we hid under the carpet in previous years” he said.

But local authority reform is just one of the high-profile mandates of the interior ministry. The minister oversees immigration, the citizenship programme, the civil registry, civil defence, the guardianship of Turkish Cypriot properties, refugee issues, the long-running saga of title deeds, town planning, lands and surveys, local district administrations, and the press and information office.

Hasikos, a senior member of ruling Disy, who served as the defence minister under Glafcos Clerides from 1993-2003, has at various times been outspoken on the issues that come under his purvey. This has led to clashes with MPs most recently over the rental of Turkish Cypriot properties by Greek Cypriots as holiday homes by increasing the small rent they are charged annually.

He also told Strovolos municipal councillors recently to stay out of road-making decisions and stick to the duties assigned to them by law when they decided to reject the government’s plans for Tseri Avenue.

His most famous spats have been with Auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides.

In 2015 they clashed over some issues in the audit chief’s report, after which Hasikos said he would be consulting with the attorney-general on the way in which Michaelides exercises his duties.

Hasikos said his gripe with the audit boss was not personal and that Michaelides had a right to defend the contents of his report. But while in other countries no one knew who their auditor-general was, in Cyprus “he was a superstar”.

Another dustup in 2015 saw Hasikos and Michaelides go public with a row over the approval of some 800 student visas to Bangladeshi nationals. Michaelides has asked the attorney-general to look into “possible criminal offences” by the interior ministry regarding the approval of visas to students from non-EU countries based on forged documentation.

The most recent dispute between the two centred on Michaelides’ complaint that Hasikos held a 60-per-cent stake in a company that won a contract for the renting of a building to the Civil Aviation Department in 2016.

Although the company has been renting the building to the department since 2007, Hasikos was not in breach because the contract had been signed prior to his appointment, the minister responded.

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