By Constantinos Psillides
THE decision to approve the early retirement of a public sector employee who showed up for work for a mere 47 days in two years is “completely justified”, according to the head of a body that rubber-stamps promotions, evaluations and transfers within the civil service.
Pavlos Papagerogiou, head of the Public Service Commission (PSC) told the Cyprus Mail that the PSC reviewed all the evidence at its disposal and decided that a €1,500 fine was “sufficient punishment” for the employee, who then applied and was approved for early retirement.
The woman, who worked at the Press and Information Office (PIO), appeared for work on 37 days in 2010 and provided substantiated medical excuses for the rest of her absence. In 2011, she came to work for only ten days and was absent since, until her application to leave the service.
“We took everything into consideration — the special circumstances, notes from the medical board, everything. We then decided that a €1,500 fine was sufficient. She applied for early retirement, which we approved, as we are required by law,” Papageorgiou said, but did not disclose what the mitigating circumstances were, nor the medical condition the woman suffered from.
Had the PSC fired the employee she wouldn’t receive any benefits from the early retirement scheme, including a lump sum and civil service pension.
Meanwhile, the PIO employee filed a complaint with the Supreme Court, asking that she be compensated for 44 sick days the medical board hadn’t approved in 2010.
Asked whether the PSC had ever taken harsher steps, Papageorgiou said “yes” although he couldn’t recall any specifics.
“Four or five employees have been fired or forced to retire since I was appointed to the PSC. Firing employees is one of the penalties we are allowed by law,” he said, although he didn’t remember the last time the PSC fired anyone. “In 2013 we forced an employee to retire,” he added.
Papageorgiou was appointed head of the PSC in 2009 by former president Demetris Christofias but has been a member of the board since 2003. His term expires in 2015.
The case first came to light in July 2010, when PIO officials asked then Interior Minister Neoklis Sylikiotis to investigate whether the employee committed a disciplinary offence by not showing up for work. In September 2010, the minister ordered the investigation and 13 months later the report was sent to the Attorney General’s office that subsequently passed the report to the PSC.
The employee was charged with 15 disciplinary offences. She pleaded guilty in June 2013 and one month later she applied for early retirement. The application was approved and she retired in November 2013.
The PSC decided that her disciplinary offences merited a €1,500 fine.
Public sector employees are allowed 42 days of sick leave a year, including eight days of absence without a doctor’s note. Those eight days can’t be consecutive or follow a weekend or public holiday. Once the 42 days are over, the employee’s supervisor or head of department must draft a letter and send it to the state medical board, which comprises of civil servant doctors and convenes at the Nicosia General Hospital, for an extension.
In her 2012 report, then Auditor General Chrystalla Georghadji said in that year alone the medical board reviewed 3,255 cases and approved all of them. Of those cases, only 424 were reviewed in depth. Georghadji wrote that the medical board only conducts in depth reviews when the cause of absence doesn’t justify the sick leave requested.
The Auditor General noted that in most cases the board either isn’t able to determine the validity of the claim (like in cases of vertigo, intestinal issues or stomach aches) or the employee went back to work.
Georghadji underlined that in no way could the medical board deal with the workload and suggested that the whole review process is changed. To date, no change have been made.