Cyprus Mail

House scrambles to regulate government advisors

Auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides

A bill aiming to regulate the contentious issue of government advisors was discussed at the House institutions committee on Wednesday.

After weeks of ridicule over questionable appointments for ministerial advisors, the government shared an unofficial draft of the bill with MPs, though the process will be formally complied with on Thursday.

The bill aims to create similar rules as exists with parliamentary advisory appointees.

At the same time, Akel MP Giorgos Loucaides submitted his own bill aiming to regulate the presidential advisor appointments.

Undersecretary to the president Ireni Piki said when the government came into power, it followed the existing practice where it includes a set amount in the state budget. The government also implemented a previous cabinet decision which sets out absolutely no conditions or criteria for advisory appointments.

This subsequently led to a 19-year-old being appointed as an advisor to the deputy tourism minister and a woman with a criminal record working at the deputy culture ministry.

According to Piki, the government-prepped bill specifies advisors and associates of state officials must have a degree and earn at least €25,000 a year. They may be eligible to earn more with more qualifications.

Should the bill be voted into law, the names, qualifications and renumeration of the advisors will be published for transparency purposes, she added.

Provisions have also been put in place barring relatives – up to the third degree – from being appointed.

Auditor general Odysseas Michaelides, who was at the committee, said he felt uncomfortable to be discussing appointments in the state sector outside of the public service commission. Nonetheless, this is an important compromise and the audit office accepts it, he said.

He added, however, that this law should not replace the law on public contracts, where with much more flexible procedures one can hire the services of specialised consultants with a limit of €90,000.

He also expressed the opinion that it is more correct that in the government bill the employee is hired under a civil service contract and not considered self-employed as in the proposed law. He expressed general agreement with the philosophy of the government bill.

Michaelides added it was important to instil legal regulations over the House president’s advisors, specifying the audit office would be carrying out an audit over the matter too.

The legal service agreed that appointments should be made with fixed-term contracts and not through hiring services.

A representative of the finance ministry explained they had worked together with the presidency for the bill and agreed with it.

Trade unions Pasydy, Isotita and Adyk stressed there was plenty of qualified personnel in the public service that could take on the role of advisors.

Loucaides said his bill aimed to put a ceiling to how much advisors could get paid and would only be appointed for fixed terms – ruling out the risk of then becoming public service employees, similarly to what happened with four associates appointed by former President Nicos Anastasiades.

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