By Angelos Anastasiou
A GOVERNMENT-COMMISSIONED study by independent foreign experts evaluating the civil service proposes sweeping changes to civil servants’ working conditions, focusing on payroll, performance evaluation and promotions, the House labour committee was told on Monday.
The head of Public Administration and Personnel Department (PAPD), Kypros Kyprianou, presented the preliminary report to deputies in a scheduled session of the committee.
Based on findings by the World Bank, British experts, University of Cyprus analyses and other sources, the study found that although hiring in the public sector is carried out on merit, combined pay-scales – annual pay increases independent of performance – form a counter-incentive to improving efficiency, and weaken the incentive created by promotions.
Unsurprisingly, the study – still in progress – further found that government salaries are much higher than those in the private sector.
As a result of these preliminary findings, the study’s authors proposed replacing the current system of promotions with one that places a lower weighting on employment period.
Under the current system, longest-serving civil servants would typically be regarded as the best suited to move up the administrative ladder.
“The experts’ suggestion, which is also the government’s position, is that a new payroll system must be created that will reward performance and value, through real promotions and a payroll that can be sustained by the government budget,” Kyprianou said.
The study found that over the period from 2007 to 2012, the main cause of the bloated government payroll was the cost-of-living allowance (CoLA), and to a lesser extent the increase in civil service personnel, and suggests that the decision to grant the CoLA should be pegged to the government’s fiscal position.
In order to facilitate and encourage job mobility, promotions should primarily be announced internally, with only specialised vacancies warranting recruitment from outside the government, the experts argued.
The study concluded that a new selection process, including examinations and competence testing, should be introduced for promotions to managerial posts, through the creation of an evaluation centre that will assess candidates.
Meanwhile, the experts found that the number of days granted to civil servants as annual leave, paid sick leave and maternity leave approach the European Union average – 20 to 29 days per year, 42 days per year, and 18 weeks, respectively.
But weekly working hours – at 37.5 – fall short of the EU average by approximately one hour, and the number of public holidays – at 16 days – is slightly higher than EU norms.
According to the timeframe agreed with the Troika in the context of structural reform of the civil service, the government must finalise its decisions on which measures to implement, prepare the relevant bills and submit them to the House by the first quarter of 2015.
According to Kyprianou, the timeline agreed with the Troika stipulates that final decisions must be ratified by the Council of Ministers by January 2015, and voted by the House by the first quarter of 2015.
But despite assurances, AKEL deputy Andreas Fakondis accused the government of moving to unilaterally alter civil servants’ pay system and working conditions, without prior consultation with stakeholders.
“We demand that they bring everything to the light, inform the Cypriot public and political parties of the contents of their deal with the Troika,” he said.
Ruling party DISY claimed that everything discussed during Monday’s session was included in the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) agreed by the AKEL government in 2012.
“It was transferred to this government’s MoU from there,” said Nikos Nouris, a DISY deputy.
He argued that any political decisions must be made after considering budgetary constraints.
“If we want to remain viable in the future we must avoid the mistakes of the past,” he said.
Surprisingly, the Greens’ deputy Giorgos Perdikis – routinely critical of the government’s policies – was less than dismissive.
“It is positive that, even under MoU circumstances, we are forced to finally touch the aging problems facing the payroll and working conditions in the public sector,” he said.
He added that under the current system “everyone gets promoted, exceptional or otherwise, and this has to stop.”