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Ombudswoman says audit chief broke rules

Odysseas MIchaelides (Christos Theodorides)

A REPORT released this week by Ombudswoman Maria Stylianou Lottides alleges that auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides broke civil service recruitment procedures.

It stated that the hiring by the Audit Office of 20 workers on fixed-term contracts was arbitrary as well as detrimental and discriminatory to full-time civil servants currently employed there.

The matter arose when in March full-time staff working at the agency filed a complaint to the Ombudswoman, alleging that the hiring of 20 fixed-term temps at the Audit Office was in breach of civil service laws.

The applicants who applied for the 20 positions have since been offered the jobs.

Lottides advised the auditor-general to halt the process so as to “reconsider,” given her findings.

Hitting back via a statement on Thursday, Michaelides summarily dismissed the Ombudswoman’s findings, adding that he would proceed regardless, and that the new recruits would begin work on May 2.

Late last year the Audit Office decided to hire 20 extra employees so that the agency could cope with its increasing workload. It proceeded to invite applications.

For the purpose of hiring the 20, the agency created two new job titles, specifying their qualifications. At the same time, it abolished pre-existing job titles.

The new positions were made available to fixed-term temps (contract workers) for a period of 27 months.

Temps working in the government are considered to be on fixed-term contracts if their employment is up to 30 months. Where for whatever reason their employment continues beyond 30 months, they are ‘upgraded’ to open-end contract workers.

But the full-time civil servants who filed the grievance, argue that this procedure is wrongful because the Audit Office should have first issued an official job description per civil service regulations.

Weighing in on Michaelides’ side, the Public Administration and Personnel Department said there is no requirement for a job description to be issued when hiring fixed-term temps.

The full-time employees at the agency are aggrieved because the new job titles created by Michaelides applied specifically and solely to fixed-term employees. Meaning that the full-time staff were excluded from applying for the new positions.

Moreover, the 20 new positions come with higher pay grades that the job titles abolished by Michaelides. Meaning that at least some of the new recruits will receive salaries that are higher than existing full-time personnel at the Audit Office.

The full-time staff allege – and the Ombudswoman agrees – that this will cause tensions at the workplace since the new recruits, by virtue of their higher pay grade, will consider themselves superior in the hierarchy even though they are temps.

But in his response, Michaelides said this is a flimsy argument.

“The Ombudswoman is conflating seniority with hierarchy. At any given department, there is always a relationship of hierarchy among staff.”

Sticking the knife in, he added:

“It is a shame that, through her superficial analysis on such serious matters, the Ombudswoman is discrediting the importance of her own institution.”

Michaelides went on to say:

“Our 20 new colleagues shall start working at the Audit Office on Thursday, May 2, 2019. We are confident that the existing staff shall embrace their new colleagues…”

Michaelides and Lottides have been at loggerheads before, clashing publicly over the latter’s apparent refusal to grant him access to records of her office.

Lottides had declined to hand over the data, citing possible violations of privacy. Michaelides said he only wanted to look at the meta-data, not details that would unmask an individual’s identity.

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