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Audit office says not cherry picking which state projects is re-examining

Odysseas Michaelides

The Audit Office said on Tuesday that a performance audit of public procurements has been ongoing since the beginning of the year, dismissing the notion that the checks constitute a form of ‘payback’ against the public sector due to current tensions between Auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides and the government.

In a statement, the watchdog said it is in the process of conducting a sample performance audit of 135 public contracts awarded by 31 contracting authorities (central government and broader public sector).

A performance audit is also referred to as a value-for-money audit, otherwise known as the Triple E – Economy, Efficiency, Effectiveness.

Essentially the Audit Office is examining not only the tenders processes but also the execution of the contracts to determine whether the state got its money’s worth.

The review concerns public procurements worth between €2 million and €60 million.

For contracts worth under €2 million, and for those over €60 million, the watchdog said it will carry out separate audits in the future.

The public procurements under review relate to those projects that were delivered (completed) from January 1, 2014 to December 30, 2019.

That means some of the tenders concerned were initiated several years prior to 2014, said Marios Petrides, spokesman for the Audit Office.

He stressed the point to refute the insinuation that the Audit Office was looking only into tenders initiated after 2014.

Earlier in the day, daily Politis suggested the auditor-general may have deliberately cherry-picked the public contracts that came after 2014.

The paper pointed out that Michaelides was appointed auditor-general in that year. Previously, he had served at the transport ministry, and during his stint there he was involved with public procurements.

Politis hinted Michaelides is conveniently omitting from the current audit those public contracts which might implicate him.

But that is clearly not the case, Petrides told the Cyprus Mail.

“No, some of the contracts under audit may go back all the way to the year 2000,” he said.

Petrides described this as the first large-scale performance audit on completed public projects ever undertaken by the Audit Office in Cyprus.

Asked why now, and what’s the point of the exercise given that the Audit Office issues detailed annual reports anyway, he explained that the current audit can be likened to a ‘second pass’.

“Some of the public contracts we’re reviewing were examined before, others not. This is a more detailed examination, looking not so much at possible irregularities or malfeasance, but rather efficiency in government.”

The official also waved off criticism that the Audit Office is ‘swamping’ government departments with requests for data to the point they cannot carry out their other functions.

Daily Politis went so far as to suggest these requests would ‘paralyse’ some departments, and that they amount to a bureaucratic harassment of the government by the auditor-general.

“That’s outlandish,” Petrides responded.

“We explicitly state that our review sample concerns 31 contracting authorities. Of these, 20 authorities awarded between one and three contracts, 10 authorities awarded four to eleven contracts, and one authority awarded 40 contracts.

“I think the queried government departments can cope with our data requests just fine.”

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