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Our View: Advisory Council – a step towards meritocracy or political posturing?

President Christodoulides with members of the Advisory Council
President Christodoulides with members of the Advisory Council

President Nikos Christodoulides met the members of the ‘opinion-giving Council’ on Wednesday with whom he had a constructive discussion about its roles and responsibilities. After the meeting, government spokesman Konstantinos Letymbiotis said the president considered it very important for the Council to start work as soon as possible.

On Monday the Council under the presidency of former supreme court judge, Giorgos Aresti, will have its first meeting at which the members will discuss practical issues relating to its operation. The Council’s role will be to give the government recommendations about the composition of the boards of the 11 semi-governmental organisations (SGO) such as Cyta, EAC, Ports Authority and so on.

The idea is to promote transparency and meritocracy in the way members of SGO boards are appointed. Until now, the president would appoint ‘his people’ to these boards as payback for their support and loyalty; it was the notorious distribution of the spoils of power in action. Christodoulides had promised to end this practice during his election campaign, even though he has avoided referring other appointments – such as those of state officials – to the Council.

For now, the Council will only deal with SGOs. The council of ministers will make a public invitation for expressions of interest from individuals for the board of a SGO and the Council will go through the applications and recommend three times as many candidates as there are board seats (27 for the 9-member boards) to the minister under whose authority the SGO falls. The minister would then go with his or her proposals to the cabinet.

Would the short-listed candidates not use their party connections to secure an appointment? Would a party participating in the government not pull out all the stops to ensure its candidates are appointed once they made it to the shortlist? This is after all a country in which the political parties exert huge influence on such matters. The existence of the Council will impose some restrictions to the scope for rusfeti, but will not eliminate it as the cabinet, constitutionally, would have the final say. And would people without party backing bother applying for appointment?

The government seems convinced that the new appointments regime would herald in meritocracy. Letymbiotis said on Wednesday that the Council’s operation will contribute to the promotion of meritocracy, something that society demands, and the president had set very high on his list of priorities. Then again, the boards of the SGOs are not where the real party rusfeti plays out. It is at the public service commission and education commission, which decide appointments and promotions and all the members are appointed by the president.

We can only hope that the new regime will prove a success rather then a publicity gimmick and it will give Christodoulides encouragement to broaden the scope of the ‘opinion-giving council.’

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