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Our View: Auditor-general has turned the Audit Office into its own state

Auditor-General Odysseas Michaelides
Auditor-General Odysseas Michaelides

The Audit Office, under Odysseas Michaelides, has done some very important work in exposing corruption and incompetence over the years. For this he has been justifiably praised by the parties, media and ordinary people and is generally held in high regard.  Michaelides has not handled this high approval rating very well, seeing it as licence to behave with despotic arrogance, defending everything he does – such as going beyond the limits of his authorities – as the prerogative of his status as an independent state official.

When anyone as much as questions his authority or decisions, he views this as an attempt to undermine the independence of the institution and threatens to report it to the international association of auditors. He has turned the audit office into a state within a state, with its own interpretations of the law, its own rules of behaviour and on the same level of authority as the president of the republic, although, possibly, less accountable.

It was therefore no surprise to hear him say last week in a television interview that he had already hired lawyers to fight any government attempt to reform and modernise the audit service. The idea was mentioned by President Christodoulides in a television appearance a few weeks ago, and Michaelides was asked what he would do if the reform was approved by the legislature. He said we would appeal to the Supreme Court “with article 139 of the constitution,” adding that “we already have a team of lawyers.” If the government plan was enacted into law, it would be “unconstitutional” according to “our legal advisors,” because the “amendment of fundamental articles of the constitution is prohibited,” he stated.

Ironically, the legal advisor of state institutions and officials is the State Legal Service, which Michaelides, the stickler for procedural correctness, has completely ignored, hiring his own team of legal advisors to fight a decision by the executive and legislature that has not yet been taken. And why is the taxpayer paying for the audit office to hire lawyers to fight the state? The hiring of outside legal services requires the approval of the attorney-general, according to a decision of the council of ministers, while state services have been repeatedly advised against signing agreements, without these being given the go-ahead of the State Legal Service.

In other words, the audit office has no obligation to follow the procedures that all other state services have to follow, it has no obligation to obey the laws all other state services are subject to and it has the authority to veto, by recourse to the courts, any law drafted by the executive and approved by the legislature. This is how a state within a state operates, and not a service with the duty of ensuring the smooth operation of the state.

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