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Our View: The govt did not think through the pay rise for the citizenship probe committee

Attorney-general Giorgos Savvides

The Anastasiades government’s tendency to shoot itself in the foot, would suggest that very little thought is put into some of its decisions. The latest row, over the increased payment of the members of the committee investigating the citizenship scheme, is a case in point. Without giving any thought to how the decision would be received or taking into account that there would be parties ready to pounce, the council of ministers took the decision to increase the payment of the members from the originally agreed amount of €10,500 to €30,000.

When this was made known, Diko immediately went on the offensive, saying the move raised suspicions that the government was trying to influence the committee by making a ‘gift’ to those that were investigating it. It was unethical for the government to use such tactics, the party declared, saying that this added substance to its oft-repeated assertion that the committee cannot be relied on to carry out a proper investigation and that the job should be given to the auditor-general.

How could the government not have foreseen that the payment increase midway through the investigation would leave it open to such accusations? The committee is investigating the actions of government officials and decisions by the council of ministers so a pay increase, even if merited, would be certain to raise suspicions. People were bound to claim it was a government attempt to secure a more favourable outcome, even if this was never the intention.

The explanation it gave was plausible, but it would never persuade the critics. Attorney-General Giorgos Savvides proposed the increase because the investigation is taking much longer than had been anticipated and this should be reflected in the members’ payment. Interestingly, former attorney-general Costas Clerides made a similar proposal to the government regarding the committee that was investigating the collapse of the Co-op Bank, on the same grounds, and the cabinet approved it. The three-member committee for the Co-op investigation, however, under retired judge Giorgos Arestis, refused to accept the higher pay, even though its work, that was expected to last three months, took eight to be completed.

The work of the citizenship committee too will take more time than was expected, which, in theory, would justify an increase in the payment. In practice, though, the government should not have even considered it so as not to have Diko alleging that it is a sweetener for the committee members. And as if this were not bad enough, the auditor-general has loudly announced his plan to investigate the council of ministers’ decision, helping Diko’s campaign against the government.

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