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Our View: No substance to auditor-general’s tirade against passport probe

Auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides

At around the time of the 2004 referendum on the Annan Plan, Nicos Anastasiades, as Disy leader wrote to the European Commission to report then President Tassos Papadopoulos for the way he was using state media and the government machinery to turn people against the plan. The government and Diko acted like a lynch mob lambasting Anastasiades’ betrayal of his country. For years after he was dismissed, as ‘the man who reported his country to the EU’, which was misleading – he had reported the government for intimidating supporters of the plan.

A couple of days ago, auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides announced that he would be writing to the European Commissioner for Justice, Didier Reynders, to report the investigative committee that looked into the golden passports for the “violation of every principle of impartiality”. Michaelides, on his Twitter account, made a host of accusations against the committee – he questioned its composition, said it was fishing for information, had exceeded its terms of reference and claimed there were issues of conflict of interest. He came to these conclusions without having read the committee’s final report.

None of those that relentlessly attacked Anastasiades in 2004 saw anything wrong with Michaelides reporting his country to the European Commission in 2021, which highlights their hypocrisy. Politicians, officials and citizens are entitled to report their government to the EU if they see European principles and democratic values are being violated by the authorities, but in the case of the auditor-general the complaints were motivated by Michaelides feeling offended by alleged references in the report to his office. The report had reportedly included a section about the failure of the audit office to carry out any checks of the citizenship scheme; it carried out a check in 2016 and reported nothing.

Michaelides claimed that it was not in the terms of reference of the investigative committee to look into the role of the audit office, or to have two officials that were monitored by the office being members of the committee. According to the audit office spokesman only the legislature can exercise control over the auditor general or the audit service of a third country. While the committee looked into the part played by the central bank and the attorney-general in citizenship scheme, it also had every right to do so with regard to the audit service. It was an independent committee and not a government organ, so all Michaelides’ talk about external interference and of undermining the independence of the audit office are without substance.

The fact that he went on Twitter to protest about the report and had his spokesman touring radio shows, accusing the committee of violating its terms of reference and undermining the audit office’s independence suggests his primary concern is the protection of his public profile. What is worse, is the claim that the auditor-general cannot be held accountable or censured for his/her actions, because this undermined the independence of the audit office. In a democracy no official should be untouchable. Michaelides, who exercises control over everyone, should have been the first to advocate this, instead of reporting an investigative committee to the Commission, because it dared to censure him.

 

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