The interior ministry on Wednesday rejected suggestions it had been well aware of rampant abuse at the online appointment system of the migration department for months, but wilfully chose to look the other way.
A damning report by Politis pointed the finger at former interior minister Nicos Nouris, claiming that he had known about shady agents selling appointment slots but “closed his eyes” to the matter.
The proof in the pudding for Politis was a letter dated September 29 last year, where the head of the Paphos branch of the bar association Savvas Zannoupas wrote to the association’s chairman highlighting the problems which were first brought to light in a report by the Cyprus Mail on Sunday.
He said he had heard from other lawyers and members of the public that there were groups of shady agents booking appointments en masse with fake names who would subsequently cancel one, for a fee, granting someone the opportunity to book an appointment.
Zannoupas claimed he had discussed this with the head of Paphos immigration department who had allegedly conceded they were aware of the problem.
“Today we received a report from a colleague who when he failed to book an appointment for his clients, was notified that he could buy an appointment from a specific company,” he said.
Chairman of the bar association Christos Clerides consequently wrote to Nouris in October stressing “the matter is very serious. It appears there is an abuse of the procedures which also concerns the migration department and I believe you should address the issue as soon as possible.”
According to Politis, Clerides received a response a month later from Maria Adamidou who heads the Paphos branch of the migration department. She informed the bar association they were aware of the matter, assuring them there were “constant efforts to tackle and prevent abuse”.
In a statement on Wednesday, the interior ministry rejected the idea that the state had been idly sitting by this information saying “measures were taken previously, without them being made public.”
The ministry said that Nouris had given orders in December 2021 to combat the phenomenon by roping in the police migration unit. After four months, the police issued a list of recommendations for the ministry’s migration unit. However, police apparently stressed the difficulty on taking specific action at that particular time as it was also when a number of Ukrainian nationals were seeking refuge in Cyprus and the migration department was also understaffed.
“From the day the abuse was discovered, efforts were made to reverse the phenomenon, allowing time for corrective actions to be taken, as it concerned an electronic platform, which was put in place in the context of the transition to e-government, with the ultimate aim of serving the public,” the interior ministry said.
It added that between March and May 2022, the ministry’s migration department offered a number of suggestions to the ministry’s permanent secretary. The company handling the online appointment system was tasked with adding some safety nets “but this did not reap the necessary results”.
“After taking up his duties, current interior minister Constantinos Ioannou issued an order to end this electronic system.”
The new system includes the possibility to book an appointment depending on the category, as well as not booking an appointment and being seen in order of priority.
Click here for the new system.
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