No ‘proper office’ for Environment Commissioner

One man, one secretary carrying out daunting tasks

AFTER almost three years of stalling in parliament, the proposed law for an Environment Commissioner and Council has been rejected by parliamentary committee.

The decision leaves Environment Commissioner Charalambos Theopemptou is back where he started, with virtually no staff, no prospects of getting any, and no legal backing.

Theopemptou’s office presently consists of him and his secretary, which makes his daunting task to independently check on environmental policy and education, almost impossible.

The bill was introduced to parliament in December 2006, six months after Theopemptou took office as the first Environment Commissioner, an office created by then President Tassos Papadopoulos.

The purpose of the bill was to create a legal framework for the creation of a ‘proper office’ for Theopemptou, with actual staff. Such a law would set up the mechanism for the office of the Commissioner to function as an independent government body. Sources inside the committee revealed yesterday that boosting the Commissioner’s office was “perceived as a threat to some Ministries”.

It was believed that after the relevant law was passed, the Commissioner would be given the much-needed staff, but following the unexplained and unexplainable decision to reject the bill at Thursday’s house committee meeting, Theopemptou must continue to tackle a daunting daily schedule on his own.

Theopemptou’s daily activities include researching every issue that comes before him, letter-writing, meeting attendance, answering people’s queries and addressing complaints, making speeches on the environment at schools, following developments and much more.

The decision on whether to assign more staff to Theopemptou now lies exclusively with the President of the Republic, as the position of Commissioner, created by the President, is heavily dependent on the President’s goodwill.

The sources said however that it was doubtful whether those ministry officials who rejected the bill, would not still object to any boosting of the Commissioner’s office.

The proposed law also included a provision on the creation of an ‘Environment Council’ that would check any policy related to the environment. The Ministry of Commerce and of Agriculture, Natural Resources and the Environment had suggested that the Directors of four relevant departments from their ministries should permanently sit at this Council. The sources inside the meeting revealed that this was considered paradoxical as the same people would be making a policy and then checking it.

“In the end the disagreement was ‘resolved’ by getting rid of the law altogether,” said the sources.

Theopemptou declined to comment on the decision yesterday.