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Our View: Difficult to disagree that minister lost perspective

Finance Minister Harris Georgiades

Finance Minister Harris Georgiades is not doing himself any favours by defending his ministry’s decision to ignore the fact that one of its officials was in flagrant violation of the law. The 2015 law stipulated that civil servants above the A8 pay grade needed the approval of the Public Service Commission to hold party office. The civil servant in question, Savia Orphanides, who was recently seconded by the ministry to the European Investment Bank did not apply for such an approval and was therefore in breach of the law.

Had the demand for a disciplinary investigation been made by anyone other than auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides, who enjoys publicly bossing around ministers, Georgiades may have been more inclined to comply. As usual though, the heavy-handed Michaelides turned the matter into a public show, leaking information to the press and setting up interviews with the Cyprus News Agency to embarrass the minister while promoting his moral and professional superiority. In response, Georgiades dug in his heels claiming that countless civil servants were in breach of the law and censuring the auditor-general for only ‘targeting’ his ministry’s employee.

Michaelides had over-stepped the bounds of his authority in a public display of muscle-flexing as matters of the law are the responsibility of the attorney-general. He was alerted about the violation of the law by a deputy but rather than refer the matter to the attorney-general, as he should have done, he made a big song and dance, publicly censuring the minister and vociferously demanding a disciplinary probe because he wanted to take credit for it. Georgiades sought the attorney-general’s advice and was told, in writing last week, that he was obliged to launch a disciplinary investigation.

The minister said on Tuesday that the law would apply to all civil servants holding party office and there would be investigations of all cases, which he claimed were many. Then he committed the blunder of saying that “if we were a serious state and the institutions were serious the handling of the matter would have been different.” In a serious state, though, a minister cannot defend a clear breach of the law on the grounds it was widespread. Attorney-general Costas Clerides took exception to this assertion, saying that if someone had lost his seriousness it was the minister and it is difficult to disagree with him.

What was the different way in which the matter should have been handled? Was Georgiades suggesting that the law should have been ignored because many civil servants were violating it? How could an otherwise sensible minister take such a position, which is tantamount to defending the indefensible? He could not ignore the law because the issue was raised by the meddling, self-publicising auditor-general pursuing his self-aggrandisement.

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