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House president, minister lock horns over double pensions

annita
House President Annita Demetriou

House President Annita Demetriou and the finance minister got into a verbal spat on Tuesday after the former complained again that the latter is not following proper procedures in submitting legislation to parliament.

The spat relates to the contentious issue of pensions given to state officials after the government submitted two draft bills aiming to tweak the legislation.

Demetriou said the finance ministry was breaking the norms by submitting the bills to parliament for ‘consultation’ before the bills were approved by the cabinet.

“It’s an eminently institutional issue,” she said.

“As President of the House of Representatives, it is my duty to safeguard the institutions as well as the constitution, and therefore not accept irregular procedures which potentially violate the separation of powers.”

Demetriou recalled that during a prior meeting of party leaders, a unanimous decision was reached to not accept draft bills from the government. They instead proposed that an informal consultation take place with the ministry, which is “the usual and appropriate practice”.

It was the second time that the House president refused to take formal receipt of bills submitted in this way.

In March, Demetriou had sent the same bills back to the ministry. She insists that the proper procedure is for government bills to first get the nod from the cabinet and then be sent to parliament.

Speaking to Alpha television, Demetriou remarked sardonically that the finance minister was resorting to “a judgment of Solomon” – an artful way to get around an unsolvable dispute.

Snapping back, Finance Minister Makis Keravnos – whose ministry drafted the bills in question – attributed Demetriou’s stance to her own interpretation of the rules.

“It seems Mrs Demetriou knows all about Solomon’s judgments,” Keravnos told the same media outlet.

“I don’t do that… I simply implement normal practices.”

According to reports, under the two bills regulating the matter of pensions for both serving and retired state officials, these officials would continue receiving their pensions normally.

However, the change is that pensions would be paid out once a state official reaches the age of 65, instead of at the age of 60 currently.

Moreover, this would not affect officials who have already reached the age of 60 and have begun receiving a pension.

Under the current law, and under certain conditions, a civil servant who retires early to assume public office – like president or minister – may receive a pension for their service prior to the normal retirement age.

This applies for instance to President Nikos Christodoulides, who has received a pension since March 2018 when he resigned his position as Consul-General to become foreign minister. In addition to getting the president’s salary, Christodoulides receives a reported €1,300 pension for his time in the civil service at the foreign ministry.

About 160 state officials, retired and currently serving, are on multiple pensions. For example, there are state officials like the president and four ministers who are collecting a state pension while also being paid a state salary.

Despite an attempt by the legislature to end this state of affairs, a law it passed in 2014 was later ruled unconstitutional by the courts on the grounds that a pension was the property of its recipient and could not be taken away.

The auditor-general has repeatedly called on the state treasury to cease the practice of the simultaneous payment of salaries and pensions to currently serving state officials.

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