State auditors who went to Ombudswoman Maria Stylianou-Lottidou’s office to collect documents demanded by their boss Odysseas Michaelides left empty-handed on Monday after she refused to hand them over in an ongoing spat over jurisdictions between the country’s two institutions.
In a letter addressed to Michaelides, dated January 20, Stylianou-Lottidou explained her refusal to hand over the documents, citing an opinion on the matter issued by Attorney-General Costas Clerides on January 8.
Clerides’ letter was in response to Odysseas’ demand that criminal proceedings were initiated against the Ombudswoman for not handing over information his office had requested.
There has been an ongoing dispute between the two independent state officials for months now, with Michaelides demanding information regarding the operation of the Ombudswoman’s office that Stylianou-Lottidou claims he had no authority to seek.
She argues that the auditor-general can only carry out a financial audit of her office and not the administrative audit Michaelides wanted.
There have been diametrically opposed interpretations of Clerides’ opinion. Michaelides sent officials to the Ombudswoman’s office on Monday claiming the AG’s opinion allowed him to carry out an administrative audit. Stylianou-Lottidou insisted the AG’s opinion made it clear that the auditor-general could not carry out an administrative audit.
Clerides’ opinion said that while Michaelides had the authority to carry out a financial audit, this did not extend to an administrative audit. In his letter the AG noted that the information requested by the auditor-general formed part of the annual reports submitted by the ombudswoman to the president of the Republic and parliament.
As a result, “the issue of whether the information should be provided to the auditor-general was raised unnecessarily and deems no further legal interpretation,” Clerides wrote.
In Monday’s letter to Michaelides, Stylianou-Lottidou said the report concerning the first year of her service had been published in 2019 and expressed bewilderment as to why he wanted documents that were already posted on her department’s website to which everyone had access.
As regards her annual report for her second year in office, Lottidou said it was ready and would be submitted to President Nicos Anastasiades as soon as a meeting was arranged. The report, for 2018, would be made public after it was submitted to parliament, as was the practice, she wrote.
“Therefore, you and any other citizen will have access to its content,” she said.“I am certain that when you were requesting the information, you did not mean that you must be the first to know all that is included in this report, before it is even submitted to the president.”
She pointed out that Michaelides’ insistence on receiving documents from her office before they were made public “raised questions”.
She noted Michaelides had already carried out eight financial audits of her office in the last two years.