By far the most painfully awkward ministry handover on Wednesday was that of the health portfolio, where the tension between outgoing minister Popi Kanari and permanent secretary Christina Yiannaki was palpable.

The two avoided eye contact throughout, with Yiannaki looking pointedly the other way while Kanari delivered her farewell speech, and they did not adhere to protocol in the order with which they spoke.

It was evident the differences between the two could not be masked for the cameras, after their very public spat last year.

Though a permanent secretary usually begins the handover ceremony with an opening speech discussing everything the minister achieved during their tenure and a warm remark to thank them for their cooperation, this was not done on Wednesday.

Instead, the handover began with Kanari standing on the podium without a speech to set in motion the handover.

She underscored her term was “an experience rich in challenges and successes”, stressing it was an honour to serve in this post.

Yiannaki took the stand after Kanari and pointedly remarked: “your passing may have been short here, but your departure leaves its own mark.”

The two could barely muster the strength to shake each other’s hand, instead awkwardly tiptoeing around each other, while Yiannaki handed Kanari a bouquet near the end, to which they forced a Covid-friendly kiss on each other’s cheek, keeping their faces as far apart as possible.

“The health ministry is a very demanding ministry, as it is the guardian angel of our fellow human beings. During your time here, we have tried and given our best to assist you in this very difficult task. We wish you all the best, health to you and your family,” Yiannaki said.

Her remarks to Kanari were brief, and most of Yiannaki’s speech was directed to the new minister, Michael Damianos, where she told him “the ministry should be your second home,” likening it to a beehive “that works tirelessly and endlessly”.

In turn, Damianos said he was honoured for the appointment and promised he would continue Kanari’s work, while stressing to Yiannaki that their cooperation will be close and constructive.

Damianos, who is the deputy Diko leader said now was not the time to discuss if he would be resigning from the party post, highlighting it was not something he would be doing right now.

“I am taking on a difficult portfolio with many pending bills. The goal is to support the architecture of Gesy….Health is the ultimate good and we are its guardians. I will work with all my strength.”

‘Firebrand letter’

Earlier in the day, Philenews leaked the contents of a letter Kanari wrote to President Nikos Christodoulides, who decided she would be replaced.

She underlined that out of 77 actions the president had sought to see the health ministry implement, 26 were adopted in their entirety.

Another 16 were implemented at 75 per cent and 22 at 50 per cent.

This was all done in 10 months, for a programme that was set to last five years, she underlined.

“We have done a lot in a very short time and touched on this which have been in ministry drawers for years.”

The ministry also took initiative for other actions outside of Christodoulides’ scope, such as agreements for transplants between Cyprus and Greece and the exchange of mental health expertise.

Asked about it during the handover, Kanari said there was no dissatisfaction on her part. She also did not thank the president for her appointment.

“The aim of this letter was for the president to have in his hands a briefing on the work we have done and for the new minister to know what we have done, and what will be completed in 2024 based on the programme.”

Less than six months in her tenure, Kanari publicly questioned Yiannaki’s qualifications, amid a social media firestorm that claimed the latter had forged or falsified her dentistry degree from Cairo University.

The now former minister called on Yiannaki to provide evidence for her qualifications and her English proficiency, which was also called into question.

The auditor general had previously ruled her qualifications did not appear to be suspicious.

Yiannaki said Kanari’s approach was “beyond the limit” and was tantamount to workplace persecution.