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Our View: HIO ‘conflict of interest’ only the tip of Gesy iceberg

The hysteria surrounding Gesy that is gripping the country has moved from last week’s target, the president of the Cyprus Medical Association Petros Agathangelou, to the head of the Health Insurance Organisation (HIO) Thomas Antoniou as if someone had just flicked a switch.

The committee charged with investigating potential conflict of interest among public officials said on Tuesday it would look into Antoniou and other members of the HIO board almost immediately following the withdrawal of the appointment of Agathangelou to the HIO board after a massive uproar related to potential conflict of interest.

This new investigation was sparked after it was made public by the private doctors’ association, that Antoniou’s wife is a Gesy health provider, a physiotherapist, though this was already known. Physiotherapists joined Gesy in December 2020. The audit office insisted on Thursday that a conflict existed because Antoniou’s wife joining Gesy affected the family income.

Perhaps it did and perhaps it didn’t. The question to be answered would be whether she or all other physiotherapists unduly benefited from HIO decisions or not, or just earned a living in the much the same way as she did before joining Gesy. Certainly a lot of doctors did benefit unduly.

Antoniou on Wednesday submitted his resignation to President Anastasiades, even though he said he made this decision before the conflict committee announced its plans to investigate him and others on the HIO board.

Antoniou’s letter to the president was a little melodramatic. He said the motives behind the shift in focus to the board were entirely political on the part of Gesy’s enemies, and nothing to do with legal issues or conflicts of interest. Now his family was being targeted, he said.

This particular conflict of interest drama is distracting somewhat from the real issues. The HIO has been rocked by a flurry of bigger scandals involving abuses by doctors and by beneficiaries and others who jumped on the gravy train that is the new health system.

Whether or not Antoniou does have a potential conflict of interest due to his wife’s job is not the cause of what ails the national health system in its totality, and this is what should be investigated as a priority. There are many fingers in the Gesy pie and it does appear the HIO has been out of its depth in reining this in.

Sometimes bad management is just that and may have nothing at all to do with any conflict of interest. Now suddenly this is the cause du jour. A person may have a conflict of interest but not let it affect their decisions on the job. It is possible, even in Cyprus that there are people that are not necessarily corrupt.

Since when did any politician, or indeed all those shouting the loudest right now care so much about conflicts of interest anyway? If every potential conflict of interest among public officials, including politicians and the members of the executive were investigated, the island would grind to a complete halt and almost all of them would be out of a job.

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