The Supreme Court on Monday ruled against a petition filed before it by auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides regarding the nomenclature used for the titles of certain public officials – but the ramifications of the court’s decision remained unclear.
The Audit Office had petitioned the top court to rule on whether the government can unilaterally alter the nomenclature pertaining to state officials as these are prescribed in the constitution.
The auditor-general’s office was seeking declaratory relief – effectively a judgement stating that an action taken by the finance ministry was null and void.
The matter concerns a circular put out by the finance ministry in April last year, by which it altered the titles assigned to three state officials.
In the Greek language used in the constitution, the three state officials in question are known as “deputy to the auditor general”, “deputy to the attorney-general” and “deputy to the state treasurer.”
The word “to” makes it clear that these three positions are subordinates to the auditor- general, the attorney-general and the state treasurer, respectively.
But under the finance ministry’s circular, these three titles were to be changed to “deputy auditor-general”, “deputy attorney-general”, and “deputy state treasurer”. The word “to” was left out.
It’s understood that Michalides saw the new formulation as a potential challenge to his authority and jurisdiction.
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.
Savvides’ argument in doing so, was that the terminology being used produced a contradiction between the Greek and Turkish texts of the constitution.
For its part, the Audit Office argued 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 at the time, ran 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 had added.
But in its ruling, delivered Monday, the Supreme Court dismissed the auditor-general’s petition. In a unanimous decision, the court said the use of the new nomenclature in no way impacts the competence of the auditor-general.
The court said a mere dispute over the competence or jurisdiction of a state agency or organ, does not entail a real-life impact to that agency or organ. In short, no decision or action by the auditor-general has been affected by the change in nomenclature.
In a statement later the Audit Office said that, while it respects the court’s decision, the wording of the decision in fact vindicates it.
It pointed out that the ruling expressly avoids the terminology in question – either the “deputy to the auditor-general” or the “deputy auditor-general” formulation. Instead, whenever referencing this, the court used the abbreviation ‘DAG’.
Also, the court reaffirmed the provisions of the constitution, making it clear that the deputy auditor-general is an assistant – a subordinate – to the auditor-general.
As such, the Audit Office went on, the court has in essence agreed with its own view.
But at the same time, the new nomenclature stands. The Audit Office said it would bring up the issue again when the 2024 state budget bill is submitted at the end of the year.
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