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Is the number of public holidays really justified?

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By Stelios Orphanides

ON WEDNESDAY, the preliminary findings of a report were unveiled on the areas in which Cyprus’ public service requires improvement. The report confirmed what we all knew for decades; civil servants are not rewarded for their productivity but for showing up at work.

They earn more than respective private sector workers, they get promoted without any performance evaluation but based on seniority. They also work an hour less every week compared to their peers in Europe. Also, Cyprus has at least three public holidays more compared to other countries in Europe.

In 2012, Cyprus asked for a bailout as borrowing costs soared, making financing its fiscal deficit or refinancing its debt unsustainable.

What triggered this process was a combination of factors. One was the collapse of the inadequately supervised and regulated banking sector. The other factor was related to government expenditure designed to lavishly sustain an unproductive public sector combined with structural deficiencies in both the public and private sector.

As a result of the economic collapse, national income has been declining for three years now, the level of public debt skyrocketed, businesses struggled, the jobless figures rose to the highest levels ever seen before, families are suffering and society’s future hangs in the balance.

On Wednesday Cyprus celebrated its Independence Day. In any other country, a national holiday would serve as an opportunity not just to take pride in a country’s past but also to reflect on its current state and future prospects.

One may argue whether in Cyprus’ case there’s much reason to celebrate the past given that one third of its territory remains occupied and its economy lies in tatters. While there are enough reasons to reflect, there are plenty of opportunities to do so as Independence Day on October 1, is not Cyprus’ single national holiday.

There are three more: October 28, the day Greece entered World War II, March 25, the day of the Greek uprising against Turkish rule and finally, April 1, when Greek Cypriots launched their armed anti-colonial struggle against the British. All of these national holidays, are days on which the public sector, and some areas in the private sector, banks, insurances, accountants and others become paralysed.

Does Cyprus’ current plight justify the number of holidays given to civil servants? Do they deserve more national holidays than public workers elsewhere? Are so many national holidays justified when patients spend months, even years, on the waiting list before they are treated at public hospitals? Is it right that investors have to wait months before permits are issued or that legal disputes take often years to be completed? Are we really honouring those people whose struggle and selfless sacrifice made independence possible by squandering what we inherited from them? Did they fight for a handful of holidays or for a more noble cause?

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