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Cyprus

Audit Office takes on finance ministry over title change

Auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides

The Audit Office has petitioned the Supreme Court to rule on whether the government can unilaterally alter the nomenclature pertaining to state officials as these are prescribed in the constitution.

In a statement on Monday, the auditor-general’s office said it is seeking declaratory relief from the supreme court – effectively a judgement stating that an action recently taken by the finance ministry is null and void.

The matter concerns a circular put out by the finance ministry on April 19, by which it altered the titles assigned to three state officials.

Up until now, in the Greek language used in the constitution, the three state officials in question are known as “deputy/assistant to the auditor general”, “deputy/assistant to the attorney-general”, and “deputy/assistant to the state treasurer”.

In short, the nomenclature as it stands makes it clear that these three positions are subordinates to the auditor- general, the attorney-general and the state treasurer.

But under the finance ministry’s circular, these three titles are to be changed to “the deputy auditor-general”, “the deputy attorney-general”, and “the deputy state treasurer”.

The finance ministry said it was implementing a legal opinion delivered earlier by attorney-general Giorgos Savvides, who asked the heads of these departments or agencies to henceforth use these new titles.

In doing so, Savvides overturned a prior decision on the same matter issued in 2015 by his predecessor Costas Clerides. His argument in doing so, was that the terminology currently being used produced a contradiction between the Greek and Turkish texts of the constitution.

In its own statement, the Audit Office opined that the finance ministry has no authority whatsoever to alter the nomenclature assigned to state officials as described in the constitution – even if it has received the nod from the attorney-general to do so.

This action, it said, runs contrary to both the constitution and the state budget bill as submitted and passed by the House.

Only the Supreme Court has the authority to interpret the clauses or the language of the constitution, it added.

As such, the Audit Office has taken recourse to the supreme court, asking it to rule on the matter and void the new nomenclature introduced by the finance ministry.

Until such time as the supreme court delivers a judgement, the Audit Office said, it will make no further comments on the issue.

“We are saddened that a matter which, in the eyes of the public justifiably seems to lack any particular significance, is being upgraded by some to a matter of jurisdictions and powers of the second-in-command independent state officials,” the Audit Office stated.

Although on the surface a question of form over substance, this dispute could reflect the ongoing friction between auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides and the current administration; Michaelides has often been criticised for overstepping his bounds.

 

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