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Attorney-general concerned proposed changes to appointments are unconstitutional

Attorney-general Costas Clerides is due to retire soon. There is speculation that former justice minister Ionas Nicolaou will replace him

Attorney-general (AG) Costas Clerides said Wednesday he was not in principle opposed to term limits for the position of AG and deputy AG, but opined that bills tabled to that end were going about it in the wrong way.

Opposition Akel has tabled a legislative proposal aiming to introduce term limits for the positions of AG and deputy AG, and another doing the same for the auditor-general and the deputy auditor-general.

As the terms of service for these four officials are spelled out in the constitution, changing them will require amending the constitution – requiring a 2/3 qualified majority if and when the bills make it to the plenum.

Akel is proposing a six-year term for the four officials, with the possibility of renewal for another six years, for a maximum of 12.

Currently, the AG and his deputy serve until the age of retirement designated for supreme court judges (68), while the auditor-general and his deputy serve until their retirement at age 65.

Speaking to the press after the matter was discussed in parliament, Clerides said it is in the state’s discretion to determine the duration of service of the AG and deputy AG, as well as their qualifications.

But another provision of the proposed amendment was problematic. He was referring to the clause which specifically excludes certain individuals from being considered for these positions.

Under the Akel proposal, the following are not eligible for the four positions in question: persons who serve or served as ministers during the administration of the president who appoints the AG and deputy AG; persons who are members of parliament at the time of the appointment of an AG; and persons who, at the time of  the appointment, hold a senior position in a political party and who, by virtue of the party charter, are involved in decision-making or are directly engaged in exercising political authority.

According to Clerides, the exclusionary clauses might be unconstitutional themselves. Rather than expressly limit the president’s options, he said, a better way to approach the issue would be to redefine and refine the qualifications of those eligible to serve as AG and deputy AG.

Clerides said that, in his personal opinion, and irrespective of what the law may or may not mandate, a president should always appoint to these positions people who lack ‘political baggage’ so as to ensure they are truly independent officials.

Akel MP Aristos Damianou said his party would take Clerides’ views into consideration.

Demetris Demetriou, of the ruling Disy party, said the Akel proposals breach the separation of powers, since the legislature would be usurping prerogatives reserved to the executive branch of government – like the appointment of key officials.

Akel says its bills aim to bring ‘new blood’ into these posts, filling them with individuals who would serve limited terms and thus not grow complacent or out-of-touch.

Some are skeptical of their motives.

Clerides, the current AG, happens to be months away from retirement, and it is rumoured that his likely successor will be Ionas Nicolaou, who recently stepped down as justice minister.

Critics say the Akel move is designed specifically to stop Nicolaou from becoming the next attorney-general.

 


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