WE WELCOME the proposal for the amendment to the constitution that was tabled in the House by Akel with the aim of introducing a fixed term of service for the auditor-general, the attorney-general and their respective deputies. It was high time the law was amended to end the practice of these state officials holding their post until they reached retirement age, which for the attorney-general is the same as for supreme court judges – 67.
This provision of the constitution was aimed at safeguarding the independence of these officials, preventing the executive from terminating their services because they may have taken decisions the president or a minister did not approve of. With the executive unable to exercise any pressure over them, they would be able to do their job without interference and their independence guaranteed, at least by the law.
Times have changed. The principle of seniority that ensured a senior civil servant, towards the end of his or her service, was appointed to the post of auditor-general is no longer sacrosanct and quite rightly, because it has been realised that young, bright, energetic and ambitious civil servants that want to prove themselves, could do a better job than someone a few years away from the end of their career. In the case of the attorney-general’s post, it is usually filled by an older more experienced person, but there is no reason to exclude young candidates for the job for fear of staying in the post for 20 years or longer.
By amending the constitution, the state will embrace modern practices, which concedes that top state official, like a the CEO of a business, would get stale, complacent and de-motivated by staying in the same post for too long. Worse still, in the state sector, there is also the danger of an independent official who cannot be moved from a post abusing their power. Such dangers, although not completely eliminated by the amendment of the law, would be restricted by a fixed term.
Akel’s amendment proposed a six-year term that could be renewed once, taking the maximum service to 12 years. Being at the mercy of the government for a renewal, however, creates a certain dependence on the executive that could influence the official’s decision-making. This is why there should be one fixed term of seven years, after which a new person is appointed. Auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides, who attended Wednesday’s legal affairs committee that discussed the matter, also agreed with the idea of one term but gave the example of the US in which the auditor-general’s term was 15 years. That is way too long, even though it would be shorter than the 19 years Michaelides will be in his post, if the amendment is not approved.
It is positive that Disy also supported the principle of fixed terms, even though it expressed some reservations regarding conditions for eligibility for these posts. Now it is up to the two big parties to get moving and finalise this much-needed amendment.