In the end, public outcry and intense pressure from all directions worked. The appointment of the President of Cyprus Medical Association, Dr Petros Agathangelou to the board of the Health Insurance Organisation (HIO), was annulled by decision of the council of ministers on Thursday. Two weeks after approving Dr Agathangelou’s appointment, the cabinet terminated it, although in the intervening period, President Anastasiades and his health minister had dug in their heels, refusing to bow to public pressure.
What happened was a face-saving exercise for the president. The Cyprus Chamber of Commerce, which had proposed the appointment Agathangelou, as one of its two representatives on the HIO board, sent a letter to the President, informing him that it withdrew its proposal for his appointment. This was just theatre, considering the decision had already been approved by cabinet and published in the official gazette and the Chamber had no authority to revoke it. The letter simply allowed Anastasiades to avoid some of the embarrassment for his volte face, by placing the responsibility on the Chamber, which until Wednesday had refused to budge on the matter, insisting Agathangelou should take his place.
Some could describe the government climbdown as a triumph of people power, but others can describe it as a victory of mob rule. Ever since the appointment was announced, unions, patients’ groups, HIO board members, former health ministers, political parties and a host of associations and media demanded its revocation, because Agathangelou had opposed the introduction of Gesy and had urged doctors not to join. They were not willing to forget this, going as far as to make the nonsensical claim that he would undermine Gesy, not explaining how one person could impose his will on 13-member board. Pure emotion, as is usually the case, crushed rational argument.
Claims that this appointment led to a conflict of interest – because doctors were providing services to Gesy – smacked of hypocrisy. Union representatives were also on the HIO board, and their members were also providing services to Gesy. Why was this not deemed a conflict of interest? Funnily enough, the president of the HIO, Thomas Antoniou, who threatened to resign if Agathangelou took his seat on the board, could also be charged with conflict of interest as his wife was registered as a Gesy provider. We were told that, legally speaking, there could only be conflict of interest if the actual board member was the provider, but this also worked in favour of Agathangelou who was not in Gesy.
What will happen now? Will the Chamber of Commerce have to ask for the approval of the patients’ association, the unions, Akel and the HIO board before it proposes its representatives? And once it proposes the two members it is entitled by law to have on the HIO board, will the cabinet have to ask for the green light from the above before it confirms the appointments? Logically speaking yes, because Anastasiades cannot suffer the same embarrassment again.