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13 June, 2024
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Presidency in prolonged crisis

Komodromos crisis exposed superficiality on the hill

Marina Economides

Marina Economides

The United Nations General Assembly in New York proved to be a crucial test for Nikos Christodoulides during his first year in office. It was also a trip in which he invested significantly, both personally and politically.

On one hand, he aimed to use the platform of these meetings to communicate a positive message regarding the Cyprus problem. On the other hand, his presence there was seen as a means to bolster his political influence. His extensive diplomatic experience, coupled with his prior role as Minister of Foreign Affairs, underlined the importance of his diplomatic contacts as a valuable political asset.

Moreover, he believed that these contacts could potentially address and rectify the government's past shortcomings.

Whether this outlook was overly optimistic or ambitious is open to debate. What is indisputable, however, is that no one anticipated New York would become a mere footnote on the political scene back in Nicosia. The Komodromos case had already cast a shadow over the government's image, overshadowing any initiatives.

As the President monitored developments from New York, he returned without any progress on the Cyprus problem. Simultaneously, a crisis with clear political implications awaited him, which had already rattled the government during its initial six months in power.

The Komodromos case was not a sudden eruption; it had been a topic of discussion and contention since her employment at the University of Cyprus. Alongside her university duties, she hosted television shows, first on a private channel and then on a state-owned channel. Complaints led to discussions within the University of Cyprus Board of Directors, with Rector Tasos Christofides staunchly supporting her presence in the media, arguing that it promoted the university's activities.

The decision to second her to the government was seen as a way to de-escalate the situation. However, when she was appointed Deputy Government Representative, she insisted on retaining her university position, citing professional risk and uncertainty about her post-government career. Notably, Panagiotis Sedonas, also a University of Cyprus official before his appointment as Deputy Government Representative, had resigned without raising such concerns.

The duplication issue only came to light in May, exposing the President to criticism. The solution was to change her appointment from an official position to a secondment of Special Duties, a method previously used in the case of Andreas Joseph, the former director of the Press Office of President Anastasiades.

Two key issues emerged: her refusal to relinquish her university position and the matter of overtime. The latter came to public attention during a parliamentary session on September 11, where AKEL requested a briefing on the presidential expenses, given the discussion surrounding numerous postings on The Hill. It was revealed that the Deputy Government Spokesperson, along with two other presidential officials, had claimed overtime. Nicosia MP Christos Christofides deemed this unacceptable and requested a postponement of approval until the Auditor General could investigate.

In the initial session, all parties except AKEL sought to quickly close the matter by approving the overtime. However, DISY's spokesperson, Onoufrios Koulla, insisted on a week's postponement due to AKEL's request. This prolonged the discussion, and it was revealed in the subsequent parliamentary session that Ms. Komodromou's overtime for receptions, inaugurations, memorial services, and charity events had been approved by the government representative, Konstantinos Letympiotis, despite earlier claims that the request had been withdrawn.

Questions naturally arise as to why Nikos Christodoulides insisted on appointing an individual primarily concerned with job stability and wage increases to an official with special status. The public backlash over the overtime issue, and its subsequent implications, caused prolonged embarrassment for the presidential office.

Alpha journalist Katerina Agapitos' admission that she had sought a government official to handle the incident didn't go unnoticed. The Deputy Minister to the President, Irene Piki, after her initial statements, took a few days off while the President and the Government Representative were in New York. This, along with the government's silence on the matter, raised questions about their willingness or ability to manage the situation and whether they intended to support Ms. Komodromou.

This crisis has exposed both Mrs. Piki and Mr. Letympiotis. Irene Piki had set high expectations when she assumed her portfolio, positioning herself as a super-minister who would oversee and evaluate the work of the entire ministerial apparatus and ensure ministers' compliance. Her decision to second a dozen officers to oversee the ministers had already ruffled feathers. Many wonder how she can be optimistic about controlling numerous ministries when she struggles to manage the presidential office. The question remains whether she was aware of or consented to this approach.

Konstantinos Letympiotis faces criticism both for approving the overtime and for his inconsistent statements. His assertion that he merely certified the locations of "individuals" reflects a transactional approach to his role.

Although he is regarded as a miniature version of Nikos Christodoulides due to his low profile and positive relations, he has struggled to effectively manage government crises. His lack of experience, especially regarding the Cyprus problem, has hindered the government's ability to provide regular briefings to journalists, as initially promised.

Rumors suggest that the President will personally address this issue upon his return. The parties within the coalition government have conveyed their desire for Ms. Komodromou to step down.

This situation poses challenges not only for Nikos Christodoulides but also for the government as a whole. It appears that the government's difficulties are eroding its image as a strong and invincible force, and there is a risk that the Democratic Rally (DISY) party, which remains outside the government, could indirectly benefit from this weakening.

The crisis surrounding Ms. Komodromou's position has had significant repercussions for the government. Nikos Christodoulides' choice to surround himself with individuals he trusts personally has led to political inexperience and a lack of depth within his inner circle. The government's inability to effectively manage this crisis has raised concerns about its ability to govern effectively.

At the same time, some coalition parties have begun to resent the situation, perceiving costs in these developments. They calculate that as the government weakens, DISY, which remains outside the government, may indirectly strengthen

[This article was translated from its Greek original]

Cyprus  |  presidency  |  government  |  workplace  |  overtime

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