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Cyprus

Auditor-general slams state waste management policy

Odysseas Michaelides

The Cypriot state finds itself at the mercy of private monopolies due to the mishandling of waste management policy over the past few years, auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides said on Thursday.

He was referring to a cabinet decision in October 2013 to scrap plans for construction of an integrated waste management facility in Nicosia, and the government’s failure since to implement a decision for a landfill to be built in the capital.

Last week the cabinet appointed a three-man committee of inquiry to look into how and why €40 million in European Union co-funding for the construction of the Pentakomo waste-management plant in Limassol risks being lost because there is no market for the processing of the fuel by-product of the process – solid recovered fuel (SRF).

Finding a market is one of the conditions set by the EU in return for agreeing to co-finance the project.

The committee of inquiry is headed by Cyprus bar association chief Doros Ioannides, assisted by two experts.

Ioannides is the brother of current labour minister Zeta Emilianidou.

The auditor-general has expressed concern over the impartiality of the investigative committee.

This is because some cabinet members should be a target of the investigation, Michaelides said – referring to agriculture and interior ministers Nicos Kouyialis and Constantinos Petrides, as well as Petrides’ predecessor Socratis Hasikos.

Michaelides wrote a letter to the attorney-general, advising that the latter, rather than the cabinet, should empanel the investigative committee and define its mandate.

In addition, the auditor-general said, an investigation must look at the administration’s decision to scrap a decision by previous governments to set up a waste treatment plant in Nicosia, a decision which made closing the Kotsiatis landfill impossible. The continued operation of Kotsiatis may lead to a fine from the EU to the tune of €30,000 per day since 2013.

Rubbish from Nicosia is deposited at Kotsiatis.

Defending their actions, both Kouyialis and Petrides argued that the decision to scrap plans for the Nicosia plant was actually a money-saver because the problems arising from the Pentakomo facility – no domestic demand for SRF – would simply have doubled.

Kouyialis said another reason for nixing a plant in Nicosia was that the Koshi, Larnaca, waste management facility is under-utilised.

He added that if the Koshi plant were able to operate at full capacity, by also accepting waste from Nicosia, this would render Kotsiatis redundant.

The Koshi facility currently serves the Larnaca and Famagusta districts. It converts waste to compost.

The recently completed Pentakomo waste management facility is expected to go fully operational sometime this month. Unlike Kotsiatis, it will produce SRF.

But official documentation held by the auditor-general shows that the two ministers had in the past proposed to convert the Koshi plant so that it could generate SRF.

According to Michaelides, this directly contradicts the ministers’ assertion today that they were against a waste management facility in Nicosia precisely because it would produce SRF, for which there were no buyers.

Regulations mandate that fuel by-products must be converted to energy.

Meanwhile, as a result of the government dragging its feet for four years, today the state has painted itself into a corner.

Since the decision in October 2013, the government was supposed to invite tenders for companies interested in purchasing SRF and converting it into energy. But only last week did it announce the tender.

In 2014, Michaelides said, when the government potentially had other options, the Vasiliko Cement Works was offering to buy SRF at €3 a tonne.

Now, with virtually no other punters, Vasiliko is asking for €50 per tonne.

Complicating matters further, the operators of the Koshi plant are refusing government requests to receive waste from Nicosia.

For their cooperation, the operators, Helector, are demanding amnesty and the dropping of all charges against them.

The company is a defendant in an ongoing trial where public officials have already pleaded guilty to accepting bribes in exchange for looking the other way while Helector overcharged municipalities.

Sources familiar with the matter remarked that the timing of the government-commissioned probe is “intriguing.”

The investigation was announced just days after the auditor-general made public the contents of a letter he had addressed to the agriculture minister where he raised a number of questions about waste management policies. The actual letter to Kouyialis was dated August 21.

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