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Our View: The auditor-general is behaving like some petty overlord

Auditor-General Odysseas Michaelides
Auditor-General Odysseas Michaelides

Ever since his appointment, auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides has been acting as if his position gave him the constitutional right to interfere in all the executives’ decisions – often before they were finalised – to decree what policies should be followed, make public allegations of criminal offences against individuals that proved unfounded and to crush anyone who criticized or questioned his reports and announcements. It is as if he had been appointed overlord of the Republic, with a remit to call everyone into account.

The paradox is that the auditor-general, as an independent state official is unaccountable. Worse still, he cannot be moved from his post and is entitled to wait until he reaches retirement age to step down. In short, this state official is afforded despotic powers which he can exercise as he wants to, as long as there is a semblance of legality. Even if the auditor-general turns out to be incompetent or inadequate (this is not to say Michaelides is either), nobody can replace him or her. A case of actual wrongdoing must be proved in court before such action is taken.

The attorney-general is also an independent state official, in the post until retirement, but there is accountability, given that every decision taken can be challenged in court and overturned. This is not the case with the auditor-general, who can make public accusations against any public official or government department that are left hanging over them, even if these are of dubious value and relevance. In the case of Michaelides, what is appalling is that if an official challenges his allegations – he feels affronted, and goes on the offensive trying to publicly belittle his perceived detractor.

Several ministers have received this treatment, the latest being the finance minister and the ministry permanent secretary, who, according to Michaelides, had not followed the correct procedures for securing consultancy services from two firms, of a total value of a little under €300,000. It was not an amount that was stolen or squandered, but used to secure advice, needed urgently, on negotiations for the Hermes Airport contract. A tenders’ procedure may have taken months to be completed and if it were legally challenged, the government would still be waiting for the service it urgently needed.

Michaelides was aware of the urgency of the matter and could have censured the irregular procedure in the audit office’s annual report. Neither the amount involved, nor the alleged procedural violation merited the public fuss he made. As for his threat to report the government to European Commission over such a trivial issue, it betrays an official motivated by petty motives rather than dedication to the public interest. Presumably, he had to protect his carefully cultivated public image, after the finance ministry reported him to the attorney-general for leaking details about the government’s negotiations with Hermes airports to the legislature. His revelations could have proved costly to the government’s position in ongoing negotiations, but Michaelides, being unaccountable does whatever he pleases.

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