After the inexplicable level of deference President Nikos Christodoulides showed to the auditor-general over government appointments it was expected that he would not take a stand in the public row the latter instigated with the attorney-general and his deputy.

Government spokesman Constantinos Letymbiotis emphatically stated on Wednesday there would be no intervention by the executive in the row between two independent state institutions and urged both to tone down their exchanges. He also said it was important to preserve the prestige and independence of the two institutions for the benefit of the serious work they have to do.

This was quite an astonishing stance, the government doing what it often accuses the UN of doing in the Cyprus issue, keeping equal distance from the two sides. But this row was started by Odysseas Michaelides and his sidekicks, who have gone out of their way to shatter the prestige and credibility of the state’s legal service, making public allegations of corruption against it.

Michaelides and his entourage made scathing allegations of corruption and conflict of interest against deputy AG Savvas Angelides, who felt obliged to defend himself, while AG Giorgos Savvides also joined the fray on Tuesday, accusing the audit office of overstepping the bounds of free speech. He had a point. Michaelides, the audit office spokesman, the auditor-general’s so-called support group and Michaelides’ son were repeating corruption allegations, which they did not even know were correct. According to the audit office, the allegations had been conveyed to it and it forwarded them to the authority against corruption for investigation.

Was this acceptable behaviour for the government? Did it consider it correct for the auditor-general to repeat allegations against the deputy AG in public based on hearsay? Did the government expect the latter to accept everything the audit office was publicly throwing at him without answering back? If someone is undermining the prestige of independent state institutions it is the auditor-general and the government spokesman should have said this instead of behaving as if the two sides are equally to blame.

The problem, which is fast becoming a threat to the proper functioning of the state, is that the president and his government are terrified of Michaelides, as Christodoulides’ complete capitulation to him over the appointments showed. It is afraid to take a stand against him on a matter in which he is clearly in the wrong and has behaved in a way that makes a mockery of state institutions, including his own. He is undermining a state institution for the sake of this personal vendetta against the AG, whom he has publicly criticized on countless occasions.

On Wednesday, the authority against corruption said it would treat the allegations it received from the audit office as a matter of priority, saying it would investigate immediately. It also came to the defence of Michaelides, saying there was no legal provision preventing someone who reports a case to the authority from making it public. Is it also afraid of Michaelides?