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Cyprus

Political controversy around presidential assistants rumbles on

The political controversy kept raging on Tuesday over four presidential assistants whose fixed contracts got converted to open-ended contracts, effectively giving them civil servant status – something explicitly proscribed by law according to the auditor-general.

Opposition parties piled in, defending the auditor-general and rebuking the administration of Nicos Anastasiades over what they termed a blatant scandal – particularly as one of the four presidential assistants happens to be the president’s niece.

The four women in question are affiliated to the ruling Disy party.

Akel said the affair smacks of the administration’s “arrogance” and disregard for the rule of law.

Hitting back, the government accused Akel of hypocrisy and double standards, adding that the main opposition party was making a big fuss only because the individuals in question are linked to Disy.

In another dig, government spokesman Marios Pelecanos said that “Akel pretends it does not know that, to this day, certain people working at the presidency were among those who under their own administration made use of the right to change their employment status, a practice which the Anastasiades government put a stop to in 2016.”

For their part, junior opposition Diko accused the government of trying to cover up a scandal. Rather than the government conceding its mistake, Diko said it is instead denigrating the auditor-general who brought the affair to light.

In its defence, the government has said that thousands of people working for the state on a contract basis, and over a number years, have been made civil servants.

The auditor-general’s office has repeatedly called for a reform of this practice in general, which technically is not currently unlawful.

But it also said the law explicitly prohibits this practice where presidential assistants are concerned. Because they are appointees, assistants to the president, ministers or the House Speaker may be employed for a specified period of time, and their employment is terminated on the expiry of the term of these state officials.

The four persons in question are 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. Their request was approved, and it appears the government then used this as the basis to change their employment status.

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