Cyprus Mail
CyprusGuest ColumnistOpinion

The Public Service Commission still lacks accountability

comment efi xanthou people protest against systemic corruption in nicosia, 2020. if we want graft and corruption erased from our country, we n
People protest against systemic corruption in Nicosia, 2020

By Efi Xanthou

The ruckus over the claims concerning the qualifications of the permanent secretary of the health ministry Christina Yiannaki have immersed us over the last month. I am in no position to know whether the doubts raised by the anonymous parody account on X (formerly Twitter) are accurate or not, but it has become apparent that a majority of Cypriots are prepared to believe them, for the simple reason that they just do not seem outrageous.

And why would they? There is the case of Costas Christoforou, former director of the House of Representatives and then president of the Commission for the Protection of Competition (EPA). He was found by a court of law not to have a university degree, and so he resigned from his position as commission president, and that was that. He spent his whole adult life being promoted from one position of power to another, and when he was found out he didn’t even get a slap on the wrist. The EPA spent years re-examining every single case that ever went before them while he was president, huge funds were utilised to make this happen and of course the businesses involved got a reprise from having to pay their fines. Some even got compensated by the commission.

So how did this occur? How did the five-person commission that hired him in the first place get tricked into doing so? The all-powerful EDY, the Public Service Commission, how could they have neglected to make diligent checks on the documents submitted by candidates? Well, if their track record is anything to go by, mistakes are being made constantly by this commission, while most never see the light of day because they are buried in court cases that take years to conclude. In many cases, candidates that had been wronged are promoted, to indirectly make them withdraw their case. In other cases, candidates are vindicated but, in a repeat process the commission usually just appoints the same people it did in the original procedure.

Getting information on the commission is extremely hard, especially since they remain beyond the jurisdiction of the auditor-general. Hence, no-one can easily find out how many hours (and funds) have been wasted in court rooms by the attorney general’s office lawyers that are forced to represent the commission and their decisions. There is no clear picture of how many times the EDY has disregarded court decisions and rehired the same people, safe in the knowledge that time is on their side, and they are untouchable. People reach retirement before court cases are refiled and retried; promotions are handed out to have court cases withdrawn, and in some cases complainants jump into political careers and ‘no harm no foul’ is taken to another level.

So, going back to the original issue that prompted this article: in any sensational case concerning people wrongly appointed or promoted by the Public Service Commission, the public and the media start a whole conversation but never seem to ask who the people that hired them in the first place were. In the case of Costas Christoforou, did anyone check the identity of the five people on the commission who originally hired him? Did the officer working for the commission who was responsible to check the degrees submitted ever go under scrutiny?

I know that the five-member commission will never face such scrutiny, since all political appointees are considered immune from the repercussions of their decisions, unless they are found to have violated the law knowingly. Good luck with that.

If we want to see graft and corruption erased from our country, we need to take away the tools they use to get their way. Legislation that makes it illegal to NOT implement a court decision immediately is still pending. Yes, you read correctly. If one does not follow a court decision, there is no legal way to make that person or entity abide by it, except file another court case. You get the drift.

A legislative proposal co-signed by the Cyprus Green Party is pending in the House, but there seems to be no intention to put it up for discussion. The previous two governments, and the current one, all promised to rectify this omission in their pre-election promises but, so far, no proposals have been submitted to parliament.

The Public Service Commission needs to become much more accountable for its decisions, so changes to its legislative framework need to be adopted immediately. These must include the recording of every single interview they conduct, with the transcripts being made available to all candidates involved in the process.

All branches of power need to fall under the scrutiny of both the auditor general and internal auditing service. There can be no exception for independent authorities and the judiciary. And all data concerning governments (president, ministerial council, all political appointees) should be kept in a central archive for future accountability. All must be in the light.

And the people that make these decisions should also be put to shame, with their names being made public, when their decisions are found wanting in a court of law. Even if cases cannot be built against them personally, they should at least be made accountable to the public sphere. Then maybe, slowly, we might manage to change attitudes and practices that have been embedded in our culture from centuries of being subjugated to overlords. It’s time to become a proper state.

Efi Xanthou is a political scientist and the Coordinator of the Interior Committee for the Cyprus Greens-Citizens Cooperation, [email protected]

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