The replacement – or not – of police chief Stelios Papatheodorou has dragged on for a month, with President Nikos Christodoulides still unable to decide what to do. The chief has refused to make things easy for the president, by submitting his resignation, as acting government spokesperson Doxa Komodromou had done last week to spare him the embarrassment of explaining the unlawful overtime arrangement.
In the case of Papatheodorou, the president had no responsibility for the poor policing in Chlorakas and Limassol, but he made the chief’s position untenable with his public comments after the riot in Limassol. The day after, in front of the cameras, he said he was ashamed by ‘our’ inability to protect citizens. This was a vote of no confidence in the chief as was the government leak that the president had privately reprimanded the chief and the minister of justice.
About a month has passed and no decision has been taken, even though leaks from government have indicated the president was considering appointing an outsider for the post, the implication being that he had no confidence in any member of the police hierarchy to replace Papatheodorou. Appointing a non-policeman as chief happened once before, during the Clerides government, more as a favour than as a rational decision. It would be no surprise if the president cannot find a civilian, with zero experience of policing, to take on the job.
Yet the questions keep coming. On Monday Justice Minister Anna Procopiou, when asked by journalists, said the appointment of a chief was the president’s responsibility. Later on the same day Christodoulides snapped at journalists who asked him if he had taken a decision. “When I have something to announce, I will announce it; I do not make statements publicly without having decided something,” he said.
It did not occur to the president that the problem was his failure to make a decision. This failure has humiliated the chief and all high-ranking officers while also destroying morale in the force, which has been in limbo for the last month. Will officers obey a chief on his way out, assuming he has not given up on the job, awaiting his sacking? How are top-ranking officers acting considering that the president has no faith in any of them to take charge of the force?
What happens if he does not find a civilian to appoint, but even in the unlikely event that he does, who among the force would help them carry out a job they know nothing about? The president, with his failure to take a decision, has manoeuvred himself into a no-win situation, destroying the morale of the police force in the process. Whatever decision he takes now will be seem to be the wrong one.