Although the 2022 state budget was approved, without the drama we witnessed last year, one of the 46 amendments approved by the legislature has caused a little tension between opposition parties and President Anastasiades. There is already talk of the president sending the amended law back on the grounds it was unconstitutional, but he awaits the advice of the attorney-general.
This is looking more like a matter of pride than a constitutional issue, the president feeling aggrieved because he was stopped taking care of his associates – making them permanent public employees – by opposition parties at the behest of the auditor-general, who was at the centre of last year’s budget stand-off. Last year Diko wanted the citizenship scheme files handed over to the auditor-general to pass the budget.
This year’s objections that led to the amendment by Diko, Akel and the Greens had some justification as it was aimed at stopping the practice of giving permanent public sector jobs to people through devious methods. Anastasiades hired four of his staffers at Disy as employees of the presidency, on a fixed contract, when he was elected in 2013. The contracts expire at the end of his term but instead of renewing them for another five years, the government converted them to open-ended – valid until retirement age.
Anastasiades had secured public sector employment for his aides through devious means although he could argue that turning fixed contracts into open-ended contracts had become standard practice and that hundreds of people hired on a temporary basis had become permanent. There were EU directives forcing the government to make staff permanent after a specified period on fixed contracts. Then again, when some 3,000 teachers working on fixed contracts demanded ‘permanence’ earlier this year the government, quite rightly, would not hear of it despite the public protests.
What example is the government setting by sneakily making the president’s four aides permanent public employees? And what happens if the president decides he wants to make another 10 of his advisors/aides public employees through the back door? Under the circumstances the three parties were perfectly justified in passing the amendment. The president should not be allowed to behave in this arbitrary way, which is an abuse of his power for the benefit of his aides – a blatant case of nepotism.
All this could have been avoided with the drafting of a law preventing aides and advisors hired by a president from having their fixed contracts converted to open-ended. This way, a president could hire as many advisors and aides he or she likes without being able to add them to public payroll until retirement. These aides would also know that their employment would last as long as the president’s term and not lobby for permanence once in.