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Our View: President is right to deny auditor-general a role on loans committee

Auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides

Ii was high time President Anastasiades finally applied the brakes on the auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides who has been constantly overstepping the bounds of his constitutional powers, acting like he is the supreme authority of the land, entitled to issue his missives on whatever matter takes his fancy.

In an interview, published in Politis on Monday, Anastasiades said he would not satisfy the demand of the opposition parties for Michaelides to sit on the committee that approves the bank loans guaranteed by the state.

Until now, nobody, apart from the ombudswoman, had dared challenge Michaelides’ constant meddling because he had come to be regarded by the public as the number one fighter against corruption, a reputation he earned in his first years in the post with some good investigative work. Michaelides used his broad public approval as constitutional licence to censure ministers, intimidate independent state officials and threaten to report people to the attorney-general among other things.

Nobody asked whether the auditor-general had such powers, because everything he said and did was supposedly part of his war on corruption. It is ironic that the main agents of corruption – the political parties – regularly demand that the auditor-general undertakes investigations as if they will be considered anti-corruption by association with him. And now they want the auditor-general to sit on the committee that will approve the bank loans.

Anastasiades said in the interview why he objected. “But for the auditor-general to sit on the committee and decide the loans essentially replaces the executive and becomes part of the decisions.” He quite rightly pointed out that Michaelides could carry out audits of the loan decisions, but “we do not co-decide with the auditor-general.” In no other country did the audit office have the powers the parties were demanding for Michaelides, he added.

The president would not even countenance the idea of Michaelides sitting on the committee as an observer, because he had this role in other committees and “as a result of his presence, no decisions are taken”. Officials were afraid to take decisions because they feared they could end up being publicly censured by the auditor-general. Ministers had complained in the past that nothing was getting done because civil servants were afraid of Michaelides.

This is an opportunity for the government to clarify the role and powers of the auditor-general, which do not include taking executive decisions or making policy proposals as Michaelides has often done. The auditor-general’s reponsibility, as the job title clearly states, is to carry out audits of government decisions, spending and procedures.

Hopefully the president’s firm stand will drive the point home and help Michaelides finally understand that there are limits to his powers.

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