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Attorney general and ministers ‘cannot be compelled’ to appear before MPs

03
The auditor-general has declared a vendetta against the attorney general Giorgos Savvides and his deputy (Christos Theodorides)

It would be unconstitutional to require the attorney general, the deputy attorney general and ministers to appear before parliament, attorney general Giorgos Savvides told the House legal affairs committee on Wednesday.

He was giving his views on the proposed law for the filing of evidence and information in the House of Representatives and House committees.

Citing interpretations of the constitution, Savvides explained that within the model of presidential democracy and the separation of powers, the presence of ministers in the House plenum does not constitute a constitutional obligation, but indicates their political will and assumption of political responsibility.

Quoting the legal opinions of the first AG Criton Tornaritis, he said that “parliament has the right to information in the form of answers to questions it raises on matters of an administrative nature, but it cannot request the production of documents for the purpose of exercising control, except in the context of its legislative activity.”

Regarding the presence of himself and representatives of his office, the AG assured that the legal service will participate in House sessions where it can offer assistance.

However, after the end of the session he clarified that for the AG and the deputy AG, who are considered independent institutions, “the exercise of their constitutional powers does not fall under the control of the House of representatives”.

“The affiliation of ministers, the AG, and other independent officials, authorities and bodies within the scope of the control of the House, is against the constitution,” he said.

He also referred to a 2021 Supreme Court decision ruling that the AG’s powers cannot be regulated by the House, or even by the courts.

He added that it is a request of modern society that the House be fully informed, pointing out that attention is needed in attempts to revise the constitution, due to the particularities that apply after the Turkish invasion.

Tornaritis said that the House cannot compel the ministers to appear before a committee or even to submit documents, noting that Disy does not support the proposal due to its unconstitutionality and adding that the AG quoted “heaps of opinions that exclude this particular proposal”.

“We cannot accept the inclusion of the attorney general or the deputy attorney general in this discussion,” he continued, saying that it is being held because “transparency, modern political thought says that the public should know and politicians are obliged to inform the public” on such matters.

He assured that “the legal service is always present, it is absolutely helpful in the proposals of the law, so in practice parliamentary control is exercised on a very high level”.

Akel deputy Irene Charalambidou, one of the rapporteurs of the law proposal, which is co-signed by six other deputies from different parties, said that her testimony was deemed necessary when, in December 2020, the then interior minister Nikos Nouris submitted a position by the AG saying that ministers are not obliged to appear before parliament or submit evidence.

The position expressed by the AG “that parliament cannot exercise parliamentary control, at least not in the way that we as MPs understand we can exercise,” is troubling, she said, adding that it almost makes the House’s role just ornamental in political life.

“A society cannot remain captive to the opinions and interpretations of 1975-1977,” she said.

“What is required today is transparency, it is the proper management of everyday life in politics.”

Government representatives that participated in the meeting, including the cabinet secretary and the presidential office director, assured that there is good cooperation with the House, and that ministers attend parliamentary committees with instructions from the president himself.

Meanwhile, auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides, who was also present, said that the issue of who can attend parliament sessions should not be up to the will of any one person, but must rather be institutionally regulated.

He said that he should also be obliged to appear before the House, noting that if it is not provided for in the legislation, the next in office could decide not to appear.

“Our opinion is that this proposal should be approached on the basis of assisting the House in its legislative work,” Michaelides said, pointing out that the recommendations of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) provide that the House needs to be informed on the handling of funds by the government, in order to be able to legislate.

Savvides pointed out that the matter has come up with the past but similar attempts did not come to a vote as the House then accepted the position of previous attorney generals that the inclusion of ministers was unconstitutional.

He also disagreed with the suggestion that this could be an attempt to change the constitution so as to shift to a parliamentary democracy.

He said the legal service will be at the disposal of the legislative power in subsequent deliberations on institutionalising parliamentary control over the executive power without interfering with the constitution.

 

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