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Our View: State officials like the AG should have term limits

Outgoing AG Costas Clerides

Several reports about the appointment of Savvas Angelides as deputy attorney-general highlighted his age, 46, which meant that he could stay in his post for 22 years, no government being able to remove him from the post without his consent. It is like the posts of attorney-general and auditor-general which an appointee can stay in until he or she reaches retirement age – 68 for the former and 65 for the latter.

This provision of the constitution is aimed at safeguarding the independence of these officials and protecting them from interventions by the executive, which would have power over them if it could have them removed from their post. This constitutional safeguard, although well-intentioned, has a significant drawback – it does not take into consideration that an independent state official, left in a post for too many years, could become demotivated, resist change, abuse their power and turn state office into a personal fiefdom.

To get round this problem, the executive might be inclined to appoint people that are six or seven years away from retirement age, as President Anastasiades had done in the case of the outgoing AG, Costas Clerides, who stayed in his post for seven years. The new AG, former justice and public order minister, Giorgos Savvides is 61 so he will also have a maximum of seven years in the post. While this practice is sensible on one level, on another it penalises younger candidates for the post. For instance, a president would be reluctant to appoint an energetic, highly intelligent, proven 45-year-old as AG because he could remain in the position for 23 years. And nobody should aim to appoint someone for so many years to any post.

In the case of Angelides, the president had no qualms about making him deputy AG for the next 22 years. The same applies to Auditor-General Odysseas Michaelides, appointed at the age of 46, meaning he would stay in the post for 19 years. And he has been acting like someone who is untouchable, behaving as if there are no limits to his powers, meddling in issues that are not his remit and turning on anyone who dares question his actions. This is an abuse of power and it seems nobody can stop it.

While the constitution must safeguard the independence of state officials, it does not have to keep them in a post until retirement to do so. The terms of independent state officials should be for a finite period – six to eight years – without the option of a term renewal, as this might encourage the officials to kow-tow to the authorities. In this way young people could also be appointed AG or auditor-general. It is the rational thing to do and the political parties, should stop talking about the matter and take action.

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