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Audit office says hands tied over Akamas investigation

Akamas, Akamas plan, construction
Construction materials in the Akamas

The auditor-general’s office said on Tuesday it does not yet have access to the administrative investigation into road works within the Akamas national forest park, and therefore is unable to complete its ongoing audit into whether the works violated environment-related safeguards.

The Audit Office has been asked by the House environment committee to look into the works in the Akamas, in the context of the construction contracts awarded by the forestry department.

The administrative investigation carried out earlier by the Department of the Environment had found a number of irregularities. It also spotted discrepancies between the Special Environmental Assessment (SEA) and the subsequent environmental approval granted for the road works project.

The audit probe had set out to answer two questions. First, whether the SEA on the Akamas road works was handed over to the project surveyors to be included in the final construction plans. Secondly, whether these were officially presented before the ad hoc environmental advisory committee.

This was not properly done, Agriculture Minister Petros Xenophontos conceded on December 5.

The minister made the remarks after being briefed on the findings of the administrative investigation – which has not been made public.

However, anecdotal evidence in the meantime pointed to heavy vehicles and machinery used in the road works of the type used in urban construction – and this in the Akamas area designated as protected.

With pressure mounting from environmental groups suspecting something amiss, on November 29 MPs asked the auditor-general’s office to conduct its own audit into the affair. The auditor-general then reached out to the Department of the Environment, asking for a copy of the administrative probe.

According to the Audit Office, the Department of the Environment dragged its feet in handing over the dossier. This forced the auditor-general to contact the agriculture minister directly.

But the minister informed the Audit Office that he has asked the attorney-general for a legal opinion on whether the dossier can be released.

“Therefore, as long as he [the minister] does not have the report, he cannot forward it to us.”

The Audit Office expressed its displeasure at this state of affairs: “The inalienable right of any entity subject to audit to seek legal counsel cannot lead to delays in providing the requested information.”

Four environmental groups on Tuesday also called for the dossier’s immediate release.

BirdLife Cyprus, Terra Cypria, the Cyprus Wildlife Society and the Cyprus Natural Coastline initiative said the minister’s remarks on December 5 were remiss in that they made no explicit mention of any breaches of the legally binding terms of the environmental approval.

“As such, no responsibilities are sought or attributed.”

But attribution of responsibility, the groups added, is crucial to identifying any culprits and therefore deterring similar mistakes or breaches in the future.

Essentially the groups want the dossier released so that the public can learn who did what, when, and under whose instructions.

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