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Committee to review multiple pensions being given state officials

House audit committee, auditor general, Odysseas Michaelides
File photo: House audit committee

By Nikolaos Prakas and Elias Hazou

The issue of multiple pensions being given to state officials will be discussed at the house finance committee in two weeks it emerged on Thursday, following an uproar that President Nikos Christodoulides is receiving a pension and his salary as president.

According to what is set to be on the agenda, the house committee is set to discuss three bills that have been in the rafters since 2016, which could see the age that state officials receive pensions raised to 63, along with other adjustments for those that served in the civil service and then took on government roles.

Back in 2010, the issue of the multiple pensions being limited or even offset was raised when then Finance Minister Charilaos Stavrakis submitted a bill to parliament, thus saving a few million euros per year for the state. The bill was passed into law in 2011 but was ruled unconstitutional by a majority in the Supreme Court in October 2014, following appeals by affected officials. The legislation in question provided for the suspension of the pension of persons who hold public office at the same time as receiving their pension.

It was annulled by the Supreme Court after finding a gross violation of Article 23 of the Constitution, which expressly states that pensions constitute a personal right, which should be protected and respected.

Since 2014, when the legislation on multi-pensioners was annulled, until now, no initiative has been taken by the executive power to legislate the matter. As a result, current and former state and elected officials share €5 million a year in pensions alone.

Following the supreme court ruling, in 2015 then house speaker Yiannakis Omirou sent letters to then Finance Minister Harris Georgiades conveying the request of the leaders of the parties for the preparation and submission of a bill, which would re-regulate the issues of the suspension of the pensions of active officials.

The audit service has repeatedly requested the legislative regulation of the matter. However, there has been no response to date.

Since then, four more bills have been submitted to be examined, but all have remained in the rafters by MPs.

However, now it seems the parliament will begin a discussion on the matter and the bills on October 16.

The first bill from 2011 was submitted by the Green Party calling for minister and MPs to start receiving their pensions at age 63 rather than 60 as it currently stands.

The next bill, submitted by Diko calling for the establishment of a new legislative framework for the payment of pensions to officials, former and active, for the purposes of complying with Supreme Court decisions and correcting distortions that have been observed.

The next two were submitted by then Disy leader Averof Neophytou in 2016 calling for ministers and MPs to get their pension at 65 instead of 60, and the other to regulate the submission of the pension at the same time as a salary.

One of the bills provide for an offset between pensions and current earnings. This means that state officials, who previously retired from the public sector but are currently serving in another post, will receive their pension in full, plus another amount, so that the total monthly earnings do not exceed the salary of their current position.

To take a hypothetical example: a state official on a pension of €2,000 and a current minister’s salary of €5,000, would see his/her pension remain untouched at €2,000, but the salary would be cut to €3,000 – so that the total comes to €5,000.

On Tuesday, the issue of pensions given to active government officials came up again, after it emerged that Christodoulides had failed to report in his capital statement (‘pothen esches’) that he receives €1,300 a month from the foreign ministry as a pension.

Although not illegal for a civil service employee to claim an early pension after being promoted to a government position, Christodoulides, unlike other ministers in his cabinet, failed to put in his ‘pothen esches’ that he has been receiving €1,300 a month as an early pension from his time at the foreign ministry, when he was a general consul.

“It is at the very least surprising that opposition parties are firing pot shots at the government for the implementation of legislation which they know has existed for decades,” government spokesman Konstantinos Letymbiotis said.

Under the law as it stands, a state official may receive a civil servant’s pension, an MP’s pension, a minister’s pension and a mayor’s pension.

The maximum pension amounts that an active state official – who served in one or more or more such posts – may receive range from €3,734 to €6,472 a month.

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