By Angelos Anastasiou
Changes in the hierarchy of the Office of the President, as well as a series of reforms aiming at better service of citizens, were announced by Reform Commissioner Constantinos Petrides on Tuesday.
The announcements aim at tackling the issue of the “broken telephone”, meaning calls by citizens to public departments going unanswered, via the creation of a dedicated call centre.
By March 2015, Petrides said, a free hotline on 1434 will facilitate 18 of the 97 services offered by the Citizens’ Service Centres.
The second phase, to be completed early in 2016, will see the introduction of a modern call centre that will offer information on every procedure of the civil service relating to citizens and businesses, as well as offering the capability of submitting requests online.
“Completion of phase two will resolve the issue once and for all in the most modern way,” Petrides said.
The Reform Commissioner announced that by mid-2015 the Citizens’ Service Centre will be moved to the premises of the State Fairs Authority, so that its service capacity can increase, with plans to create a second CSC on down-town Nicosia’s Makarios Avenue.
The Nicosia municipality welcomed the proposed move. “This decision contributes significantly to the municipality’s efforts to rejuvenate the area,” a statement said, adding that other government departments should follow suit so the city’s centre can regain its former liveliness.
Petrides also announced that, in the interest of improving the quality of services offered by government departments that deal with citizens directly, the Public Administration and Personnel department has commissioned the services of a certification company which will review, assess and certify the procedures in place at the Land Registry and Town-Planning departments as well as the CSCs.
“This initiative introduces independent external assessment to public service,” he said.
In the wake of public outcry over the affair of Central Bank governor Chrystalla Georghadji’s contract, which was signed without prior verification of terms resulting in an embarrassing admission of sloppiness by the government, Petrides announced the creation of a Presidency Directorate to replace the Office of the President.
As a result, government spokesman Nicos Christodoulides announced that the head of the President’s Office Panayiotis Antoniou had “tendered his resignation to President Nicos Anastasiades, in order to facilitate the transition”.
Public administration and Personnel department head Kypros Kyprianou, whose office is also responsible for the administrative overhaul, has been appointed head of the Presidency Directorate.
According to Petrides, besides restructuring the President’s Office into a Presidency Directorate, the new structure will also see the creation of an Administration and Personnel Unit, and an Administrative Reform Unit, alongside the President’s Diplomatic Office.
“The overhaul will incur no additional cost to taxpayers,” Petrides said. “In fact, it will consolidate, and thus reduce, expenditure.”
The planned overhaul will also include the strengthening of the cabinet’s secretariat, as well as legal support to the Presidency on issues relating to the preparation of bills and reviewing contracts and appointments signed by the President.
etrides added that legislation regarding mobility of civil servants is in the final stages of preparation.
“In recent communication, the Attorney General has assured us that there are no legal or constitutional obstacles to submitting this bill to a House vote,” he said.
With regard to the appointment of political associates to government officials, Petrides said this was a practice employed in the past in Cyprus, and one employed in all developed countries.
“It relates to the creation of small political cabinets which break up upon departure of the political leaders,” he said.
The proposal relates to minister-level government officials being allowed to hire a limited number of associates in a way that ensures that employment will be terminated when the officials leave the government or sooner, while the associates will not be eligible for civil-servant status.
“This would introduce a modern and necessary practice, which is employed by other countries in a fully transparent manner, which safeguards that no government official can exceed the amount budgeted for associates,” Petrides said.