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Auditor-general questions status change for president’s associates

Auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides

Auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides on Monday called out President Nicos Anastasiades over the affair where four of the president’s associates – previously contract workers – were effectively granted civil-servant status, with the government hitting back and casting aspersions on the official’s motives.

In a letter addressed to legislators, Michaelides urged them to amend the relevant law to stop the practice – understood to be common – where individuals working on a contract basis for the government get bumped up to civil servants after a period of time.

The government watchdog flagged four instances where aides to the president got their fixed contracts converted to open-ended contracts – in this way gaining civil-servant status and entitlement to associated benefits.

One of the individuals concerned – but not named – is Anastasiades’ niece. She’s understood to be employed as Anastasiades’ aide at the presidential palace.

The four persons were described as secretarial staff, working for the Office of the Presidency since 2013. Three of them are personal assistants, the fourth an IT officer. Two of them had served as assistants to Anastasiades from the time he was chairman of the Disy party.

In 2018 the four women applied to the director of the social insurance department, asking whether their employment could be deemed as being that of a salaried person.

According to the auditor-general, for the years 2016, 2017 and part of 2018 the four women were getting paid out of the item in the state budget allocated to the president’s assistants.

But Michaelides said their contract renewals gradually assumed a permanent status.

He pointed out a clause in the 2016 state budget bill stipulating that the appointment of these four would lapse at the end of the president’s term – meaning 2018.

Michaelides provided a table, showing the evolution in the four women’s remuneration over time – one (Anastasiades’ niece) started out on €2,341 a month, going up to €3,076 currently; the second from €2,041 going to €2,771; and the other two from €2,265 reaching €2,580.

In his missive to MPs, Michaelides suggested that both Anastasiades and Under-secretary to the President Vasilis Palmas – responsible for these matters – had to answer for the affair.

Responding, the government spokesman denied anything untoward, noting that the practice of converting fixed contracts to open-ended or indefinite contracts has taken place “lawfully” over the years in thousands of cases both in the central government and the broader public sector.

The spokesman went on to ask why, then, the auditor-general was singling out the four women now.

“With his conduct, the auditor-general has sacrificed the credibility of the Service [the Audit Office] on the altar of political expediency, harming not only himself but the quality of democracy as well,” the statement read.

It went on to accuse Michaelides of allowing himself to become an “instrument” for the political opposition.

 

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