Last Friday the government decided to cancel the competition for the construction of the 11-storey building that would house the Republic’s Legal Service. The announcement was published in the EU official newspaper as the size of project dictated an EU-wide competition.
This was a victory for auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides, who had made his objections to the cost of the building public and called for the scrapping of the project. As soon as the decision was announced, the audit office, in a tweet, “welcomed the fact that the government adopted our suggestion for the immediate cancellation of the competition for this building with the wasteful and excessive design.”
Fearing the audit office would present the decision as its vindication, the government also scrapped several other building projects. In an announcement, the transport ministry said, construction of buildings for the transport, interior and communications ministries in Nicosia had also been cancelled “in the framework of the more effective covering of housing needs of the public sector and rational management of public finances”.
It was an inexplicable move by the government, which presumably did not want to be viewed bowing to Michaelides’ diktats. As a face-saving solution it also scrapped three other major projects, regardless of the cost that starting the process from scratch would incur. The audit office did not complain about this waste of the taxpayer’s money, while its spokesman, Marios Petrides was on a radio show this morning answering questions about its meddling in the affairs of the executive.
Petrides explained that the auditor-general’s role was to point irregularities in public projects and alert the executive if public money was being wasted. He cited an example of an auditor-general in Germany, who in 2015 advised against the building of a new bridge, because the cost of repairing the existing structure would have been much cheaper; his suggestion was adopted.
Michaelides’ German counterpart suggested a cheaper alternative. Our audit office did nothing of the sort, merely seeking the scrapping of competition. The irony is that a few years ago, Michaelides made a public issue about the government housing its services in rented accommodation at excessive cost to the taxpayer and urged it to consider building its own premises. Now he is complaining about the cost of the construction.
Michaelides, it appears, has allowed his personal hostility towards the attorney-general and the deputy attorney general, with whom he has publicly rowed over several issues, dictate his stand. It is no coincidence that in his leaks to the press and when talking publicly about the legal service building he constantly mentions the size of the offices the AG and deputy AG would have (74 and 72 square metres respectively). This is aimed at turning public opinion against them because Michaelides has an agenda. The size of their respective offices is not the reason for the high cost of the building.
Interestingly, the audit office also protested about the Cyprus museum building and called for its cancellation because of the cost, but the Anastasiades government ignored his advice and went ahead with the project regardless. He did not, however, mobilise public opinion against the project as he has done in the case of the legal service building. Why? Is this because in the latter he has a personal score to settle?