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Our View: Auditor-general missed the bigger picture focusing on presidential staff

general view of the presidential palace in nicosia

Auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides highlighted a problem with his letter to the legislature about the way workers are hired on contracts in the public sector and eventually become permanent staff. That he had focused on four individuals hired by President Anastasiades, when he was first elected in 2013, reinforced the government’s argument that he was serving political expediency and had allowed himself to be used as an instrument of political opposition.

It would appear he chose the four presidency workers, one of whom was the niece of the president and the other three worked for him at Disy, so that his revelation would receive greater coverage. All four were political appointments and should not have been made permanent, Michaelides correctly argued but he missed the bigger issue – the hiring of hundreds, if not thousands of people in this irregular way. The four staffers were treated favourably but this is just a symptom of a much wider problem, which Michaelides ignores. His action indicated that his main objective was to cause embarrassment to the president rather than focus on a long-standing irregularity in public sector appointment procedures.

The practice of turning workers hired on contracts into permanent public employees became the norm after we joined the EU, the rules of which obliged the public sector to make workers employed for a certain period of time on contract as permanent. This led to hundreds entering the public sector through the back door without proper procedures being followed, something that suited the political parties distributing jobs among their supporters. This is probably why nothing has been done about it.

By hiring staff through the back door positions are not advertised, excluding people that may have been interested in the job, who were more capable and had better qualifications. In effect, it is a discriminatory hiring method as it does away with open and transparent recruitment practices, and favours those hired temporarily. The big irony is that the idea of contract workers was introduced, many years ago, so that the number of permanent public employees could be kept under control.

If any government wants to put an end to this practice it could have given short contracts that were not renewable or it could have contracted a company to provide the temporary staff required. In this way the contractor and not the state would be the employer of temporary workers. But it seems the existing practice suits the politicians who can offer public jobs without any checks or controls. In fact, for some time now opposition parties have been demanding the government makes short-contract teachers permanent as well.

It is this big-scale irregularity Michaelides should have been investigating and bringing public attention to instead of trying to score points against Anastasiades.

 

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