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Auditor-general says finance ministry ‘obstructing work’

Auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides (right) and Finance Minister Harris Georgiades

AUDITOR-general Odysseas Michaelides has accused the finance ministry of obstructing his work after the permanent secretary issued a circular asking staff to monitor audit service officials carrying out checks at the ministry.

Monitoring includes a list of all files requested by the auditors, the presence of a finance ministry official during the process, ensuring any files removed from the ministry have been returned.

The matter emerged when auditors tried to access files relating to the co-operative central bank and the government’s intention to offer free shares to its customers.

Michaelides, who repeatedly clashed with the finance minister in the past over the Co-op, said the government’s decision to donate CCB stock was unconstitutional and illegal.

He also criticised the bank’s management for its deteriorating performance indicators and top management’s earnings, wondered how the bank can attract a strategic investor by donating 25 per cent of its stock with a value of €150m and pledged to review the terms of the agreement with Altamira.

On Friday, the auditor said simply asking his staff what they were looking into “constitutes pressure.” He added that it was inconceivable to obstruct the audit in any way.

Ministry permanent secretary Christos Patsalides said he was surprised to hear Michaelides’ reaction on the monitoring issue.

“The auditor-general’s reaction over the internal circular I issue is surprising, both in relation with its content, and its tone and style,” Patsalides said in a written statement.

The finance ministry official said his circular aimed at establishing a procedure to better coordinate, monitor, and facilitate the audit.

“If the auditor-general had any comment in relation with the procedure he could have pointed it out without making unacceptable allusions and innuendos regarding the concealment of information,” Patsalides said. “My long service in positions of responsibility in the public sector is the best answer to these unacceptable suggestions.”

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