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Attorney-general weighs in on waste probe row (updated)

Costas Clerides

The attorney-general said on Monday that he should be the one to appoint a committee to investigate the handling of previous governments’ national waste-management strategy because decisions by the present government also need to be scrutinised.

Costas Clerides was responding to last week’s request by auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides that the three-man investigative committee appointed by the cabinet two weeks ago should be revoked because the actions of present ministers also needed to be investigated.

In the letter, the auditor-general had argued that the investigation should be appointed by the Legal Service and in addition to the handling of the issue by previous governments, including decisions made by this cabinet.

Such decisions included the construction of a waste-management plant in Limassol without having secured a buyer for its by-product, thus jeopardising €40 million in co-funding by the European Union, as well as the scrapping of a waste-management plant for the Nicosia district that would allow the closing of the Kotsiatis landfill, thus risking facing millions in retroactive fines from the European Commission.

“I believe that, under the circumstances, the only safe and just solution must rest on an essential assumption: that the issue of waste-management is a single and indivisible issue that must be investigated fully, objectively and impartially with regard to the reasons the situation has been allowed to reach the current stage,” Clerides said.

“This, in my opinion, can only be achieved if the Council of Ministers rescinds the appointment and mandate of the appointed investigative committee, and the attorney-general then appoints a new investigative committee on the entire issue.”

In a statement later on Monday, the presidency said it had received the attorney-general’s letter, which was going to be discussed at the next cabinet session.

“As it does in all matters without exception, the government will respond positively to the attorney-general’s recommendations,” the statement said.

Earlier Monday, the Audit Service said the cabinet had no authority to appoint an investigative committee to look into its own decisions.

Citing a report on Monday by daily Politis, which claimed that the European Commission had actually pointed out in August 2013 the potential problems with dispensing the ‘solid recovered fuel’ (SRF) from the plant that have arisen since, the Audit Service said that “it vindicates our view that the main decisions that need to be investigated relate to the period since March 2013, and therefore the cabinet did not, in our view, have the authority to appoint such a committee to investigate its own decisions”.

“These can be investigated by a committee if the attorney-general exercises the power conferred unto him by the law and appoint one,” Michaelides said.

The SRF issue, he added, was not recognised as a risk only by the European Commission, but by all involved, “which is why the cabinet decided on October 30, 2013, to pursue the procedure for disposing of it, so that the problem could be resolved within the next five years”.

“But what overturned all planning was the fact that four years were allowed to pass without announcing any contest for the disposing of the material,” he said.

“The only ones who underestimated the risk of failing to dispose of SRF were ministers Nicos Kouyialis and Constantinos Petrides, who had recommended that we turn the Koshi plant into an SRF-producing facility, a recommendation they then ratified by a cabinet decision in November 2015.”

The Audit Service, Michaelides noted, in its statement last week, recorded the options presented to the European Commission in August 2013, which “in theory are also available today, only in a much tighter timeframe because of the inaction of more than three years”.



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