TWO and a half years after being appointed Auditor-general, Odysseas Michaelides said he has found corruption levels in the broader public sector to be more than he thought it would be before taking over.
In an interview to local daily Phileleftheros, Michaelides, who has grown increasingly unpopular among top government officials who claim his snooping around has all but paralysed the public sector as civil servants fear his wrath, warned of two caveats to his assertion: that there tends to be less corruption in the central government, “possibly due to stricter procedures followed”, and that although corruption seems to run rampant, the vast majority of civil servants are “honest people of integrity”.
In the auditor-general’s view, political persons’ involvement in awarding contracts and evaluating tenders, a distortion seen at local-authority level, should be prohibited.
Analysing the root causes of corruption, Michaelides described a “triangle of fraud, or triangle of corruption”.
“Firstly, an official must have the opportunity to engage in corruption, possibly due to unreliable control mechanisms, or an unusual concentration of powers in a small number of people,” he said.
“Second, the existence of a so-called financial or other pressure – that is, a need for money, greediness, and so on. And the third factor is the rationalisation required for someone to convince themselves that what they are doing is acceptable.”
As an example, Michaelides offered the case of “a former government official” who rationalised his offence by arguing he had “given his country more than he took” – an obvious reference to former Interior and Finance minister and Central Bank governor Christodoulos Christodoulou, who was sentenced to five months in prison for tax evasion two years ago.
“Disgraceful,” Michaelides commented.
But such rationalising is a matter of cultural perceptions, he added.
“We need to look at how we can raise the bar of moral integrity in our society, so that anyone considering doing something can realise without the shadow of a doubt that it is illegal and immoral,” the auditor-general opined.
“Unfortunately, our society does not equate certain acts with corruption, and the average citizen may not realise all the implications of an illegal act.”
On fueling controversy with what seems his preferred weapon of choice – making disagreements or findings public so that the people can take a stand on any given issue – Michaelides said that, although the public’s approval is most welcome, it is “certainly not a means in itself”.
“I am not a politician, and I can’t operate on the basis of whether any action might be praised by the public or not,” he explained.
“But I do believe that the public continues to support the Audit Service, because it realises that it is acting to protect its own interests.”
By ANGELOS ANASTASIOU
Copyright Cyprus Mail – Original article with comments from the expat community