By Angelos Anastasiou
THE interior ministry is preparing a roadmap to restructure the Civil Defence in order to deal with the fact that a third of its volunteer force is over the retirement age.
The issue was brought to the House Watchdog committee by DISY deputy Aristotelis Misos when he realised that the operational readiness of the civil defence force was being compromised by the fact that many registered volunteers were over 65.
“There are instances of people over 80, and even an 89-year-old, who serve in the civil defence,” he said.
Misos argued that younger people are better suited to serve and would be more productive than retirees, but also raised the point of legislation that bans serving in the civil defence for more than ten years.
“The law states that one may serve for five years and service may be extended by the (Interior) ministry for an additional five years, but no more,” Misos said. “Yet there are currently people serving since 1974, so, the civil defence has been breaking the law.”
Chrysilios Chrysiliou, deputy director of Civil Defence in the Larnaca district, conceded that the emergency operation unit has strictly been violating legal provisions, but defended the spirit in which this was being done.
“Indeed, the law allows a maximum of ten years in service,” he said. “But it is extremely difficult to tell a volunteer that has shown exemplary commitment for ten years that he or she is no longer needed.”
Volunteerism Commissioner Yiannis Yiannaki concurred that a force comprising people younger than 65 would be more effective in case of an emergency, but reaffirmed the general benefits of volunteerism.
“It is our position, and that of President Anastasiades, that volunteerism should be promoted to the fullest extent possible,” he said. “It is an instant cure for the issue of drugs and other abuses. Though perhaps the civil defence is not the most appropriate force for older volunteers to serve in, there are countless other volunteer organisations that are in need of their help.”
An additional aspect of the issue related to the somewhat contradictory issue of volunteers’ compensation. Civil defence volunteers receive annual compensation of either €300 or €1,000 – depending on duties assigned – for a total annual budget of €600,000, plus travel expenses.
“The return on this expenditure would be increased dramatically if 30- or 40-year-olds were taken on instead of retirees,” Misos said. “And let us not forget the current astronomical unemployment levels.”
The House Watchdog committee was informed of a roadmap to restructure the civil defence force, allowing for the gradual weaning off of older volunteers, capping the eligibility age at 75 next year and 65 a year later.
“This will create a younger, more effective volunteer force,” Misos said. “Moreover, the roadmap stipulates that Civil Defence will comply with the ten-year limit rule.”