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Our View: Auditor general should stick to facts and figures, not moralise

Auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides on Thursday (Christos Theodorides)

Auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides appears to have relished giving his testimony to the investigative committee looking into the demise of the Cyprus Co-operative Bank (CCB). He appeared twice – Thursday and Monday – and on both occasions fired broadsides against the finance minister, accusing him of lying, misinforming the cabinet, ignoring the ECB, blackmailing the auditor-general and turning a blind eye to gross mismanagement, among other things.

When speaking publicly, Michaelides seems incapable of exercising the restraint demanded of his position as auditor-general and often speaks like a public prosecutor or a judge, not to mention his tendency of acting like an expert witness that has explanations for everything. He does not seem to realise that apportioning guilt is not his job and that by so doing he undermines his credibility as an independent state official. We will not even mention the word ‘objectivity’.

Slipping into the role of judge, on Thursday, he ‘ruled’ against a finance ministry technocrat: “Intentionally violating an international agreement is unacceptable, morally impermissible and probably criminally punishable.” On Monday, commenting on the finance minister’s insistence on dealing with the allocation of CCB shares, “when the ship was sinking,” he declared: “This is proof of amateurism, superficiality, incompetence and obstinacy in the handling of a serious matter.”

Such value judgments are perfectly acceptable from a news commentator, a journalist or a politician, but are not appropriate from a state official whose duties are auditing state procedures; he should be dealing in facts and figures rather than moralising. Michaelides also offered the committee, simplistic explanations for the collapse of the CCB. On Thursday, he said that the speedy merging of the 18 independent credit co-operatives may have been one of the causes that the led to the collapse of the co-ops.

On Monday he offered another cause – Finance Minister Harris Georgiades’ obsession with the donation of CCB stock to its customers, while failing to deal with the pressing problems facing the bank. “I believe that this serious delay in taking action was the basic reason why the Co-op failed,” he said. By this logic, the investigating committee might as well call it a day. Michaelides has revealed the “basic reason” for the collapse of the CCB, so there is nothing left for it to do.

These are simplistic explanations and judgments that an objective auditor-general, properly performing his duties, would never have offered. He would have stuck to the facts and not have allowed his personal feelings colour his testimony and turn it into a judgment of the finance minister, whom he declared guilty.

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