President Nikos Christodoulides on Monday assured that nothing will be done outside the law after the audit office lambasted the deputy tourism minister’s decision to appoint a 19-year-old without a university degree as his associate.

“Nothing will be done outside the framework of legality,” Christodoulides said.

The appointment is “manifestly illegal and wrongful”, the audit office said, urging deputy tourism minister Costas Koumis to not implement the planned appointment.

It added that in the case the deputy ministry proceeds and expenditure is made for this appointment “we will lodge a complaint with the independent anti-corruption authority” over abuse of power.

The audit office further added that it will request details of all consultants hired by the president, ministers and deputy ministers and will “make public as much information as permissible” based on the instructions of the personal data protection commissioner.

Based on the framework in force, such consultants should be at least 21-years-old and have a university degree.

Hence, “the recruitment as a consultant of a person who is 19-years-old and does not have a university degree would be manifestly illegal and wrongful,” the audit office declared.

Christodoulides said he is “well aware” of the cabinet decisions which provide the legal framework for such appointments.

The president added that although criticism is welcome, this should be directed at the government and not against specific people.

According to reports, the 19-year-old, who was named by some media, was actively supporting Christodoulides during his presidential election campaign while it became known that they are both from Paphos. A photo of the two of them standing side by side where Christodoulides has her arm around her has also been circulating,

As soon the appointment became known, the decision was widely condemned on social media. Opposition party Akel called it a “challenge to the whole society” and asked the government to list the qualification experience of the 19-year-old. It noted that since the appointment violates the relevant framework, the government should revoke it.

For its part, Disy, the president’s former party, slammed the government’s “shoddy handling, sloppiness and ignorance of the laws and decisions of the cabinet” that exposed the young woman.

Netizens also rushed to criticise the youth’s appointment, with some using her photo and personal information and even creating memes.

“The kid was born in 2004. She finished high school last year…with the right connections a high school diploma opens doors and makes you a consultant….graduates, postgraduates, PhDs, eat her dust!” a commentator wrote on Facebook.

Another cropped a photo of the 19-year-old and created a meme on Twitter where she is asked about her tourism experience and she responds, “I was a tourist once when I went for holidays with my friends in Crete”. As for branding, the young woman appears as responding “No, I don’t drink Brandy”.

Concerns regarding the appointment of officials as associates were launched by the audit office in 2014 when it called for an exceptional procedure for political appointments of such associates. Such a framework, which should be enshrined in law, and applied sparingly on the basis of strict conditions, was approved five years later.

On October 16, 2014, the presidency replied that it had proceeded to prepare terms of service for the advisers to the president and ministers, to ensure uniformity and to avoid different interpretations of the terms of their contracts.

Two years later, in the 2016 state budget, a note and a model contract were included, but without defining criteria and conditions of employment.

Contrary to the government, the audit office noted, the House of Representatives accepted our position to legislate on the employment of parliamentary assistants and passed the Parliamentary Assistants and Related Matters Act 2019.

After the enactment of the above law, it came back to the government on March 13, 2019, and recommended that a legal framework be established regarding the remuneration and other benefits of the commissioners and special advisers of the president, in the explanatory memorandum to the budget. The presidency should determine its needs for advisers, the amount of their remuneration according to the duties of the position and the necessary qualifications.

It should then proceed to purchase services to meet these needs, based on defined procedures and, for the purposes of transparency, the names, qualifications, position and remuneration of the consultants selected should be made public.

However, the presidency of the Republic rejected these recommendations on the grounds that such a framework would add too much inflexibility, a position with which we do not agree, the audit office said.

Despite this, cabinet approved a comprehensive framework for the employment of such consultants on March 27, 2019.

“The importance of such positions of advisors to the President of the Council of Europe and Ministers is also presumed by the fact that the GRECO Commission of the Council of Europe, as well as the European Commission, consider the position of Advisor to be a position of influence and therefore request that the holders of such a position make a declaration of intent,” the announcement said.