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Our View: Government must continue to show teeth to boost public sector’s efficiency

THE NUMBER of public employees taking early retirement is growing every year. From 344 in 2011, the number more than doubled in 2012 hitting 734 while this year, with four months still to go, there have already been 730 early retirements. The final figure could exceed a thousand, said the head of the Public Service Commission Pavlos Papageorgiou, after presenting the commission’s annual report to the president on Monday.

Civil servants were reportedly choosing early retirement to ensure they collected their retirement bonus, which could be in excess of €200,000, in full. Their fear is that, due to poor state finances, the bonus – to which they contribute nothing – could be taxed, reduced or abolished in future.

But is it such a bad thing that highly-paid civil servants (most are over 60) are quitting their jobs, given the government’s objective to reduce the number of workers in the state sector? Papageorgiou seemed to think so. He said: “the problem with early retirements is that those leaving are not surplus to requirements. Competent, qualified staff with a few years of employment to go are leaving, creating gaps in their departments and problems in the functioning of the public service.” Why are gaps and problems created by the departure of department heads? Surely in a bureaucracy there are always other employees perfectly capable of replacing those who leave?

The problem Papageorgiou highlighted is the direct result of the PASYDY-imposed rigidities of the public service. There is no proper staff evaluation system, all public employees receiving full marks for performance, something that allows the incompetent, unproductive and unmotivated civil servants to rise to the top. If there were a reliable evaluation system, the best-performing employees would be promoted and able to take over the vacated top spots.

If none were available in the existing department, an able manager could be transferred from another ministry. But PASYDY is still opposing the government’s efforts to transfer public employees from one ministry to another, despite agreeing, in principle, to this arrangement. For decades, the union opposed transfers, causing a ministry with few responsibilities to be overstaffed and those with a lot more work to be understaffed. Some transfers are now taking place but, according to Papageorgiou, affected employees regularly appeal.

All these operational problems could be resolved if the government pursued its objectives with greater resolve, as it has done in the case of the new working hours. The finance minister simply ignored PASYDY’s obstruction tactics and imposed the new hours without entering time-consuming consultations. The same should be done in the case of transfers, instead of seeking the union’s permission and then allowing employees to appeal against them. The state, as the employer, must take complete control of the running of the civil service, if it is ever to serve the public rather than its workers.

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