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Our View: Auditor-general’s crusade against waste  contract is costing us instead

Odysseas Michaelides

IN THE END the auditor-general may as well be given the title of ‘Waste Tsar’, given the way Odysseas Michaelides has been torpedoing every attempt to reach a deal regarding waste treatment. Every deal agreed with Helector, the contractor of the Koshi waste treatment plant, has been vetoed by him, even though he did not have the authority to do so. He applied public pressure and each time the government gave in, afraid of being accused by Michaelides of squandering public money.

On Wednesday there was a big meeting under President Anastasiades to try to resolve the latest problem caused by Michaelides and the Central Committee on Changes and Claims (KEAA) that appears to be under his influence. After the meeting, agriculture minister Costas Kadis said the president had given strict instructions to find a solution, one way or the other, in the next few days. If there was no agreement with Helector he wanted alternative solutions.

The problems arose when government officials realised the price of €75 per tonne paid for rubbish taken to the Koshi treatment plan was too high so in 2015 then interior minister Socratis Hasikos undertook to negotiate a lower rate with Helector. The two sides agreed on €39.90 per tonne, on condition that the contract was extended for 10 years. Michaelides campaigned against the arrangement, citing several procedural objections and claiming that EU would not approve the extension of the contract without a tenders’ procedure. The deal was scuppered.

Michaelides’ objections meant that for three years, from 2015 to 2017, we carried on paying €75 per tonne. Last December, the then agriculture minister, Nikos Kouyialis secured an even better deal with Helector, as the rubbish of Nicosia would also be taken to Koshi, because the government faced hefty fines from the EU (€30,000 per day) for carrying on using the Kotsiatis landfill that was supposed to have been closed down in 2009. The price agreed came to an average of €36 per tonne, as the Nicosia rubbish would also be taken to Koshi, which until then took only rubbish from the Larnaca and Famagusta district. The company would also be paid €17m to €20m for the three years it had not been paid, because of the ongoing dispute.

This time, Michaelides did not object to the renewal of the contract on the grounds there should be a tenders’ procedure but because the €20m bill for three years, 2015-17, was too high and Helector should be paid €13m, a view adopted also by KEAA. It suffices to say that if Michaelides had not vetoed the 2015 deal, the bill for the last three years would have been half what is due now. With his antics he ensured the €75 per tonne rate stayed in place for another three years, costing the taxpayer an extra €9m for waste treatment. It is quite an achievement by the man, who claims to prevent wasting public money.

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