Cyprus Mail

‘Political meddling bane of public service’

By Elias Hazou

PARTY-political influence and red tape must be tamed if reform of public administration is to be successful, the under-secretary to the President Constantinos Petrides told MPs on Tuesday.

Petrides, recently given the portfolio of managing reform in the public administration, was outlining to the House institutions committee the main thrusts of the government proposals.

Bureaucracy, favouritism and political meddling in appointments and promotions are the chief problems plaguing the running of the broader public sector, he told deputies.

“The current system is ailing, it does not promote those who are capable and invites political intervention,” he said, adding that scientific and technical solutions were needed.

The House meeting came a day after another committee heard that 70 per cent of the Grain Commission’s €5 million annual budget – €3.5 million – goes towards covering its unsustainable payroll. The Commission employs 64 staff, 30 permanent and 30 term-contractors. The average annual salary for a permanent staff member is €80,000, and for a term-contractor €34,000 while reports said the top jobs paid over €120,000, said to be more than the President earns.

And yesterday, at another House Committee deputies were told that a staffer at the Cyprus Sports Organisation, which has said it does not have the money to implement the football fan card, went on 55 trips abroad in two years, missing 155 days at work. It also had ‘personal pay scales’ for some employees.

Speaking on TV channel Mega last night, Agriculture Minister Nikos Kouyialis acknowledged the problems at the grain commission. “A lot of mistakes have been made and it is time to fix them. These issues have been on the government’s agenda from the very beginning,” he said. “Right now the project of public service reform is underway, and that will also include these organisations.”

The reform of public administration – designed to maximise efficiency and generate savings – is an obligation stemming from Cyprus’ bailout agreement.

Under the MoU with international lenders, authorities here must devise a “new performance based appraisal system in the public sector, for development and promotion purposes, linking performance with the remuneration system/ increments.”

Petrides said solutions regarding the appraisal of public sector workers and workers’ mobility must be ready by January 2015.

The new system must be far more efficient and productive, he said, noting that when an employee stays in the same position for 20 years this invites corruption.

The official has meantime been holding separate meetings with the parties to discuss the government’s proposals. This will be followed by talks with the civil servants’ blanket union PASYDY and with other trade unions, as part of the ‘social dialogue’ the government has promised.

As part of the review process, the government commissioned reports by World Bank and British experts, which found that public employees had no incentive to improve their productivity because promotions were based on seniority, and combined pay-scales ensured big annual pay rises irrespective of performance.

That review formed part of the ‘horizontal element’ of public administration reform, as described in the MoU. The ‘sectoral element’ deals with the role, competences, organisational structure, size and staffing of ministries, services and independent authorities; the possibility of abolishing, merging or consolidating non-profit organisations or companies and state-owned enterprises; and the possibilities for the re-organisation and re-structuring of local government.

Petrides said that so far reports have been produced relating to the ministries of agriculture, education and health, and reviews would commence soon for the ministries of the interior, communications and commerce.

Some public-sector organisations have reached the “end of their cycle” and must either be scrapped or restructured, he noted, but was quick to add that this would be a gradual process.

The payroll is a huge drain on public finances. The head of the Public Administration and Personnel Department has already hinted at the lowering of wages, telling deputies that a new payroll system would be created that can be sustained by the government budget.

At the House committee session, almost all political parties paid lip service to the need to reform public administration.

Bucking the trend, Greens MP George Perdikis expressed doubt as to whether the mulled reforms can stamp out politicisation in the civil service.

Likewise PASYDY senior officer Andreas Louka said changing the system from within would not solve the problem, stressing that “outside party interventions must stop.”

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