A public feud between President Nicos Anastasiades and the auditor-general turned into a full-blown war of words on Saturday that dragged the attorney-general and political parties into the fray, with some accusing the president of an attack on democracy after he told the audit boss to butt out of politics.
Auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides denied Saturday that he interfered in politics a day after Anastasiades censured him over his statements concerning a bill on government-backed borrowing that became the bone of contention with the opposition before it was withdrawn.
Michaelides told the Cyprus News Agency that he never interfered in government policy “and I never get involved in politics. The only guide to my actions are the constitution and the laws defining the powers and authorities of the auditor-general. This is what I will continue to do without distraction,” he said.
In an interview with private television station Omega, Anastasiades had accused Michaelides of replacing the attorney-general and meddling in politics. “His role is not to issue political statements or send letters to ministers,” Anastasiades said.
The president was referring to statements issued by Michaelides arguing that it was within his remit to sit as an observer in a committee supervising the lending process provided for in a government bill designed to assist businesses.
The government opposed this, arguing that he could not be part of the decisions he would later be called upon to audit.
On Thursday, Michaelides fired a shot against the finance minister through Twitter.
“I had asked the CBC Governor Constantinos Herodotou if he objected to us participating as observers in the supervision committee and his answer was NO. Now on (a Cybc news show) ‘Eftheos’, Petrides is saying something else. The finance minister knows better than us how an audit service works after all?”
Anastasiades said the auditor’s appointment had not been unfortunate but he “simply oversteps his authority.”
The president said an intervention by the attorney-general to define the limits of the institution’s authorities would be a positive development.
Drawn into the fray by the media, Attorney-general Costas Clerides said it was not his job to decide such matters.
Clerides said according to the constitution, he was the legal adviser of the Republic, the president, and the ministers.
“The duties, responsibilities, and powers of state officials are defined by the constitution, current legislation, and the decisions of the courts,” he told the Cyprus News Agency.
When the authority of an institution is disputed then it is the supreme court, which has the power to decide on the matter definitively and irrevocably, Clerides said.
Therefore, this issue does not fall within the remit competence of the attorney-general.”
Diko on the other hand insisted that Michaelides should have been part of the process, something noted by Anastasiades who suggested the auditor and the party had matching positions.
In a statement on Saturday, Diko chairman Nicolas Papadopoulos said Anastasiades’ attack against Michaelides was an attack against democracy.
At a time when the economy is headed towards a deep recession, the president is engaging in conspiracy theories and attacks against institutions to prevent scrutiny of his government and himself, Papadopoulos said.
“The president’s attack against the auditor-general constitutes an attack against democracy, against scrutiny, and against transparency.”
Main opposition Akel said things were very clear: “The Anastasiades-Disy government has a problem with scrutiny, it has a problem with transparency and public accountability.”
Undoubtedly, the president’s clash with the auditor-general was damaging, the party said.
It did, however, note that the auditor should not get involved in political decisions “directly or indirectly, sometimes exceeding his powers and thus prompting or providing the excuse to dispute his institutional impartiality.”
The Disy administration, the government of the co-op bank collapse, the private jets, and the passports, has no right to speak of someone else’s “inappropriate” behaviour, Papadopoulos said.
Ruling Disy said the party and the government were in favour of scrutiny as a tool of transparency and good governance but in recent weeks, Michaelides had crossed the line, acting as a politician and the spokesman of a particular party.
“Each institution has its own distinct role and power. As the president rightly stressed, the auditor-general cannot turn into a governor or co-governor and cannot go into politics and identify with parties,” Disy said.
The party said it was dangerous for democracy to try to create the impression that only one institution is operating properly in the country.