The cabinet on Wednesday decided to revoke the appointment of an investigative committee regarding decisions made over the government’s waste-management strategy, deputy government spokesman Victoras Papadopoulos said.
The decision followed a legal opinion by Attorney-general Costas Clerides, who said that for the cabinet to appoint a panel to investigate decisions that may have been made by cabinet members would undermine its objectivity and impartialness, and that the better option would be for the cabinet to rescind the appointment so that he could appoint one instead.
This had been suggested to Clerides by Auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides, who pointed out in a letter earlier this month that the cabinet-appointed committee’s mandate went back two governments but did not include this one.
“The cabinet has decided to revoke an earlier decision to appoint an investigative committee regarding waste-management,” Papadopoulos said.
“At the same time, the cabinet has decided to address the Attorney-General and request that he appoint an investigative committee with a mandate covering all decisions in all periods, to date, meaning from the day the planning process began to the present day.”
After coming to power in 2013, the Anastasiades government decided to change course and reverse parts of the waste-management strategy devised by previous governments, including scrapping the construction of a waste-management plant for the Nicosia district and failing to find a buyer for the by-products – solid recovered fuel (SRF) – of the Limassol plant.
The first decision has delayed the planned closure of the Kotsiatis landfill, which may cost Cyprus hefty fines from the European Union, while the second may be in violation the terms of co-financing by the European Commission for the construction of the Limassol plant, to the tune of €40 million.
Asked whether the cabinet decision is the government’s answer to criticism levelled against it, Papadopoulos said the government always respects the attorney-general’s opinions.
“There are no exceptions to this, and this is a message to those who, directly or indirectly, urged the government to ignore certain opinions by the Attorney-General,” he said.
“The government will always consider the Auditor-General’s decisions on every issue.”
Papadopoulos added that the ministers involved in the waste-management strategy “are addressing the situation in such a way as to avoid any consequence on the Republic of Cyprus”.
The deputy spokesman dismissed criticism that the AG’s opinion left the government exposed.
“The government decided to investigate an issue with a particular mandate so that procedures and future decision-making can be made easier,” he said.
“The Auditor-General contacted the Attorney-General and gave some facts, and the Attorney-General issued an opinion saying there can’t be two investigative committees for two periods of time; that everything should be investigated by one committee. And since the actions and decisions of this government will be part of the investigation, it would be good to have a single panel to investigate all periods and all decisions.”
But the proclamation of loyalty to the AG’s opinions drew scorn from main opposition Akel.
In a statement, party spokesman Stefanos Stefanou said the government has “only now, months before the presidential election” discovered its sensitivity to the AG’s opinions.
“Let us refresh your memory,” Stefanou said.
“The attorney-general’s said ‘shame!’ to President Anastasiades, not another president. His urge to ‘get serious’ was directed at a minister of the Anastasiades government, not one of another government. The illegalities and irregularities in the Neocleous case, pointed out by the Attorney-General, relate to the Justice Minister of this government.”
In a public spat with Anastasiades in 2015 over an investigation against then-deputy AG Rikkos Erotocritou, Clerides had famously charged that “the accused become accusers, abetted and protected by the country’s leader”.
“Shame!” he had said.
Last May, Clerides once more used harsh language in response to Finance Minister Harris Georgiades, who, in a spat with the auditor-general, said that Michaelides had “lost his seriousness”.
“If anyone has lost his seriousness, it is not the independent institutions of the Republic […] but the minister himself,” Clerides had said.
A month later, Justice Minister Ionas Nicolaou cited a conversation with Clerides while defending his decision to move lawyer Panayiotis Neocleous from the Central Prison, where he had been serving 2.5 years, to a private clinic for dental work.
A subsequent opinion by the Legal Service found “contradictions and ambiguity” in the handling of the matter and deemed Nicolaou’s decision illegal.