Although rumours have been circulating for some time now about President Anastasiades’ regular use of a private jet for his travels abroad, it only became a public issue on Sunday because the plane faced a problem over the Atlantic and had to return to New York.
Initial news reports about the incident mentioned nothing about the airline the president and his entourage were using or the flight number, raising questions that had to be answered by the government. Only then was it officially confirmed that Anastasiades was using a private jet.
Why had there been such secrecy? What was the government trying to hide? What was the cost for the use of the private jet, which according to Politis was a Boeing 737 800, and was it included in the government budget? Had the expenditure been approved by the legislature? Had there been a tenders’ procedure to secure the best price for the taxpayer? Why was such a big private jet necessary, when a small plane would have cost significantly less money? Is there a chartering agreement with the Saudi company that is reportedly providing the plane and what is the price per flight hour being paid?
None of these questions have been properly answered, with the government fudging the issue. The government spokesman said the company had been “selected after an evaluation of bids” but was unable to give any information about the chartering agreement and cost of the private jet to the taxpayer. The irony is that it would be worse if the government was not paying anything for the use of the Saudi-owned jet as this would reflect even more negatively on the president. Why would any businessman make available a Boeing 737 to a head of state of a foreign country? One columnist justifiably asked whether the president or his family circle had business links with the owner of the company.
Countless questions are raised and so far there have been no answers. Will there be any, or will the presidential palace wait for interest to fade and the matter forgotten? Auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides, who announces investigations into every triviality reported in the news, has not offered to look into the matter, even though transparency regarding government spending and public contracts are both in his remit. Has he not identified anything worth investigating in this case, not even the complete lack of transparency on the part of the government in the way it spends public money?
As for the president, the sneakiness with which he conducts official business is nothing to be proud of. At least when the late Demetris Christofias was president and had leased a private jet for 50 flight hours, a decision lambasted by Anastasiades at the time, he did not try to hide the fact.