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Cyprus

Moves to end lifetime appointments of attorney and auditor generals

Odysseas Michaelides advocate a lengthier term in office without the right to renew

Opposition Akel has tabled a law amendment for a change in the constitution to limit the terms in office of the auditor-general, the attorney-general and their respective deputies.

As independent officials, the posts are currently lifetime appointments as granted under the constitution.

Odysseas Michaelides was appointed auditor-general by President Nicos Anastasiades in April 2014, and attorney-general Costas Clerides in 2013 after Anastasiades came to power. He is due to retire from his post around June 2020.

Both men have come under fire over the past year, Clerides for a number of judicial failures, and Michaelides for allegedly overreaching his mandate in a number of cases.

According to the Akel law proposal, discussed at the House legal affairs committee on Wednesday, the aim is to amend Articles 112 and 115 of the constitution to limit the current lifetime appointments of the posts to six years with the option of renewal for another six.

In addition, the party wants to add other limitations.

These would exclude anyone serving at the time as a government minister, and MP or a political party leader or senior party member who could influence the formulation of policies.

According to the explanatory memorandum to the law proposals, the proposed regulation, which is designed to ensure the rotation of persons appointed to the positions and the independence of these persons from the political institutions of the Republic, “is considered necessary as a measure to modernise and strengthen the institutions of the Republic,  maximise the effectiveness of these institutions and enhance transparency in public life”.

Clerides did not attend the House committee discussion due, according to reports, to short notice, but Michaelides was there.

He described the proposals as “very important” and expressed the view that such serious matters should be given sufficient preparation.

“Decisions to amend the constitution can be taken only after serious consideration,” he said.

He agreed the appointment of auditor-general and his deputy should be open and transparent and that both officials should have the element of political neutrality. He did however advocate a lengthier term without the right to renew, citing the US practice of offering a 15-year term in the post.

Speaking after the House committee, Disy deputy Demetris Demetriou said the ruling party was not opposed to term limits but disagreed with the additional limitations.

“The message should not be sent that those who serve as MPs are not capable or worthy of such posts,” he said, giving as an example the successful tenure of Alecos Markides who was a serving MP, and senior party member when he was appointed attorney-general.

Akel deputy Aristos Damianou said he had presented the rationale for the proposals on the basis of the need to modernise institutions and restore public confidence.
“The proposals will ensure the rotation and renewal of persons in order to adapt to the needs of Cypriot society,” he said.

“Today having an official in a chair for 30-40 years does not meet modern needs and requirements.”
Diko MP Christina Erotokritou said her party was in favour of any processes and laws that “promoted transparency, modernisation and enhanced confidence in institutions”.
“But at the same time, we must understand and not miss the fact that some rights are fully constitutionally guaranteed to officials, including the President of the Republic, and possibly some provisions of these proposals affect constitutional rights that are enshrined,” she said. The law amendments may ultimately be deemed unconstitutional, she added.

The debate will resume on October 9 in the presence of the attorney-general.

 

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