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Our View: Is the furore over Treasurer’s conflict of interest case misplaced? 

State treasurer Rea Georgiou

A big issue has been made in the press about the conflict of interest involving the Treasurer, Rea Georgiou who, as president of the Authority of Public Supervision of the Auditing Profession, was supervising her brother who is registered as an auditor and is a partner in the accounting firm AuditPro Services. Georgiou had failed to mention the conflict when she was offered the post and the appointment was approved by the council of ministers in June 2017, it was reported.

What was worse, according to a press report, was that the accounting firm in which her brother was a partner was carrying out the audits of the companies owned by Georgiou’s husband and children, including the Cypra slaughterhouse that has been in the spotlight recently because of the high number of Covid-19 infections among its staff, a big number of whom were undeclared workers. This is not the only brush with the law the owner of Cypra slaughterhouse has had in recent years.

As Georgiou cannot be held responsible for the business activities of her husband, the papers decided to attack her over the conflict of interest, which has been pushed to the centre of public debate after the Greco report recommending it was tackled. There was probably a case of conflict of interest, but nobody could have taken it very seriously considering state supervisory bodies exercise very little supervision over those they are supposed to supervise. It would be interesting to know how many accountants or audit firms have been sanctioned by the Authority of Public Supervision of the Auditing Service.

The broader issue, which has been touched by the media and politicians but not fully explored, was how Cypra slaughterhouse was operating with dozens of undeclared workers and using premises without the necessary permits? It could be claimed that the authorities turned a blind eye to the irregularities because the business belonged to the family of a top state official with significant powers. This is in no way implies that Georgiou was in any way involved. It could be that the owner had strong ties with the government and did not need the protection of his powerful wife, for the irregularities to avoid detection by the authorities.

That there was a conflict of interest in Georgiou being president of the supervisory authority for accountants is difficult to argue against, but does this constitute a violation of public service rules that would justify disciplinary action against her? Probably not and as there is, currently, no evidence to suggest she acted unlawfully in any way, it seems futile to demand her resignation. She cannot be sacked and tried for her husband’s alleged offences.

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