Tourism minister in hot water over teen appointment

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Cyprus’ Deputy Minister of Tourism, Kostas Koumis, is in a tight spot over the appointment of an unqualified teenage student as a highly-paid special consultant, following a damning report by the Auditor General’s office on Monday.

It said that the appointment of a 19-year-old woman, who does not hold any university degree, “is patently illegal and abusive,” while recommending that the Deputy Minister “does not implement such a plan and to disassociate himself from such a commitment”.

President Nikos Christodoulides was quick to defend the decision, saying that “any criticism should be directed at the executive branch and not individuals”, with the two opposition parties, AKEL and DISY, also damning the appointment that was not based on merit.

The appointment would be equal to an A8 grade, which requires a university diploma, and earns an estimated €30,000 a year.

“Should the appointment go through,” said the Auditor General’s announcement, “the office will be filing a complaint with the Independent Authority against Corruption for possible abuse of power on behalf of the Deputy Ministry.”

The office noted that the junior ministry had hired the 19-year-old without advertising the position, in violation of regulations.

Equality and fairness

“The procurement of public positions is necessary to ensure equality and fairness, but also for reasons of public interest related to the merit-based staffing of the public service,” said the Auditor.

The Audit Service also noted that it will be requesting details of all consultants hired by President Christodoulides, the ministers and deputy ministers and will make them public, after consultation with the Commissioner for the Protection of Personal Data.

The Auditor General argued that appointment and promotion of the most worthy candidates in the civil service is of great importance for the common good.

“Non-meritorious criteria for the staffing of the public service not only do not promote but harm the public interest”.

The Auditor General’s office continued that since 2014 it had expressed strong reservations over a number of appointments of employees as consultants to the President of the Republic, to ministers and MPs.

It noted that stakeholders had agreed to draw up a regulatory framework for the political appointment of such associates, which would be voted by the parliament.

“On 16.10.2014, the Presidency had informed us that it had prepared the terms of service for the consultants to the president and the ministers, in order to ensure uniformity and to avoid different interpretations of the terms of their contracts,” said the service.

Model contract

“Finally, in the State Budget for 2016, a relevant note and a model contract were included, but without defining employment criteria and conditions,” it noted.

The service pointed out that the latest appointment at the Deputy Ministry of Tourism was also in violation of a March 2019 Cabinet decision with which consultants should be at least 21 years of age, and hold a university degree acknowledged by the Republic’s authorities.

This was not the first time that an appointment pushed through by the Christodoulides’ administration came under question.

Earlier in April, the president’s pick as board member in the public service commission, Michalakis Michael, resigned only a day after being appointed when his academic credentials were called into question.

As it emerged, Michael, appointed to a seat on the commission responsible for overseeing civil service appointments, pay rises and promotions, got his master’s degree from Trinity Southern University, and his doctorate from Canterbury University, both alleged to be diploma mills.