By Stefanos Evripidou
THE CABINET yesterday approved an amendment bill finalising public service hours following various experimentations aimed at reducing overtime pay and modernising the service.
Speaking after a cabinet meeting, deputy government spokesman Victoras Papadopoulos said the bill, which has already been tabled before parliament, proposes that from January 1, 2014, public sector working hours will either be from 7.30am until 3pm or 8.30am until 4pm.
This takes the hours back to those introduced at the start of the year when changes were made as part of measures agreed in the memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Troika of international lenders.
Public servants were given a choice of going to work at 7.30am or 8.30am and finishing at 3pm or 4pm, respectively.
On September 1, starting time shifted half an hour forward as part of a pilot programme, giving public servants the choice of going to work from 8am to 3.30pm or from 9am to 4.30pm.
Before 2013, all civil servants worked from 7am until 2.30pm from Monday to Friday and until 5pm on Wednesday afternoons.
Now, the cabinet has decided to stick to the original change made at the start of this year while also approving mandatory public service hours for offices providing services to the public.
Also from January 1, 2014, all public service offices must remain open from 8am until 3pm, regardless of whether public employees come to work at 7.30am or 8.30am.
Since the new hours were implemented last January, each department or service chose to open at different hours, giving way to confusion, while not necessarily enhancing the service provided to citizens.
For example, during this year’s trial period, the road transport department remained open from 8.15am until 3pm, while the migration department would open from 9am until 2pm. Customs offices would open from 8am until 4.30pm with the cashier closing at 3pm. Nicosia District offices, on the other hand, chose to open to the public from 8.30am to 2.30pm.
Now, all opening hours will be streamlined to start at 8am and close at 3pm.
Papadopoulos described the new system as “innovative”, adding that it would better serve the public, as well as transactions between the public and the state.
“Nobody will decide of their own accord when to open and when to close a public service,” he said.
Cabinet also approved a Communications Strategy on Public Service Reform, which will be developed by a group comprising Press and Information Office (PIO) officials, plus staff from the Office of the Commissioner for Public Service Reform and other ministries.
Papadopoulos highlighted that reform of the public service is at least two decades late, which as a result had negative consequences for the country.
Under the current difficult conditions, a flexible, improved and effective public service of quality is a necessity, he said.
“In addition, reform is an obligation of the Republic as set out in the memorandum (with the troika).”
In other decisions taken yesterday, cabinet approved the hiring of experts to assist the investigations into the near collapse of the Cypriot economy and to help ascertain whether criminal offences have been committed.
“For this purpose at least five specialised service providers will be shortlisted based on predetermined criteria with experience in police investigations,” said Papadopoulos.
The five will be asked to submit tenders, after which a contract will be signed with the chosen company.
The cabinet also decided to instruct the Republic’s Audit Office to proceed with an investigation into the failed and costly purchase of a new air traffic control system, LEFCO, dating back to 2003, which may end up costing the state millions of euros. The dispute is currently at the London Court of International Arbitration.