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Our View: Auditor-general looks childish in latest power struggle

Auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides

The ongoing row between auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides and ombudswoman Maria Stylianou-Lottidou has taken comical proportions.

Both have dug in their heels, waiting for the other to give in so this rather meaningless dispute that has gone on for about a year will finally end.

Michaelides has involved the attorney-general in the dispute, but the letter Costas Clerides sent the warring sides rather than resolving the dispute sparked a new round of hostilities as both officials claimed they had been vindicated.

Michaelides was in a much weaker position, as he had repeatedly accused Stylianou-Lottidou of breaking the law in not handing him the information he was demanding, and he wrote to the AG asking for a criminal investigation against her. In his opinion, in a letter dated 8 January and made public last week, Clerides saw no reason for a criminal investigation of the ombudswoman, clearly disagreeing with Michaelides’ assertion that she was breaking the law. If Michaelides was right the AG would have ordered a criminal investigation.

“The issue of whether the information should be provided to the auditor-general was raised unnecessarily and deems no further legal interpretation,” said Clerides in his letter. Who had raised the issue unnecessarily? Who had insisted the information should have been handed over? After the AG’s opinion was made public Michaelides, presumably to show that he was in the right, on Monday sent his officials to the ombudswoman’s office to demand they are handed over information. It was a childish reaction, certainly not the kind of impetuous behaviour we would expect from a senior-ranking state official.

Again, Stylianou-Lottidou declined to hand over the information, raising an issue of procedure. What Michaelides wanted to know was in her annual report for 2018, but she could not hand it over before the report was submitted to the president and then to the legislature. Once this happened the report would be made available to the public and the auditor-general could take whatever information he needed from it. Could he not have waited a few weeks, or was his objective to assert his authority over the ombudswoman and prove that he always gets his way?

Perhaps Michaelides does not realise that this urge always to be right makes him look rather immature. What is worse is the intimidation tactics he resorts to when someone does not timidly accept his authority and stands up to him. In the case of the ombudswoman, it is not even as if there is the slightest suspicion of impropriety. If there were, Michaelides would have informed us about it, considering he had ordered eight financial audits of the office of the ombudswoman in the last 20 months.

This alone could be seen as a form of intimidation, but what is worse is that it exposes an auditor-general who is letting his emotions rule his head, obsessing over trivialities rather than focusing on the more important issues.

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