Undersecretary to the President Constantinos Petrides who oversaw the drafting of a bundle of draft laws to reform the public sector said that the current political environment is not supportive.
“The political environment is difficult at this point to pass legislation,” an obviously frustrated Petrides said in an interview to state-radio CyBC on Tuesday, a day after the parliamentary finance committee completed the review of the draft laws which the government submitted to the House more than a year ago. “It looks like that political forces are so thirsty to reform the country that they could wait for 50 years”.
The bills which aim at addressing hiring, evaluation and promotion of civil servants, their pay increase and the transfer of workers from departments with excess staff to others needing workers, “touched taboos,” Petrides said. “And those who have never dared to touch these issues say that they will vote them down to maintain the status quo”.
Under the current system, more than 95 per cent of civil servants are evaluated as excellent and promotions and incremental pay rises are subject to seniority. The current system also bans transferring civil servants from one department to another to cover staffing gaps which in turn forces the government to hire more staff to cover existing needs without being able to address excess staff elsewhere.
The undersecretary was referring to the initial reaction from opposition parties. AKEL lawmaker Stefanos Stefanou who served as government spokesman under former communist president Demetris Christofias, said that his party rejects the proposed evaluation system for public workers and a proposed clause which links the increase of public payroll to economic growth. AKEL wants to maintain pay rises in the public service subject to negotiations and that “evaluators are also evaluated,” he said.
“We are in favour of transferability in such a way that true needs are covered which may arise in various civil service departments,” Stefanou said. “but this proposal which was submitted without (being accompanied by) regulations comes at a certain point at which the government’s record is blemished,” he continued adding that the bill is debated months after the government submitted a bill to transfer workers at the state-telecom Cyta to the public service as part of an attempt to privatise the company.
Stefanou added that a clause should be included in the bill which would prohibit “mass transfers” from the so called semi-government sector which includes corporations such as Cyta, the Electricity Authority of Cyprus, the Cyprus Tourism Organisation or CyBC.
Akel has 16 deputies in the 56-seat parliament and is so the second largest faction following Dysi, which supports the government and its reform package and has 18 lawmakers.
Angelos Votis, a lawmaker of the Diko faction which counts nine members and defines itself as centre right, said on Monday that the party will decide its final position on the proposed reforms following consultations with other parties by the end of the month without ruling out proposing amendments.
The chairman of Edek which saw the number of its lawmakers reduced to three in the May elections said that his socialist party is in favour of “maintaining and preserving everything positive” in order to avoid “discovering retrospectively that mistakes were made”.
“Because of the complexity of the content and the procedure there are risks which need to be anticipated and prevented because there is a risk of causing even greater problems following the approval, more dysfunction in the public sector and likely greater efforts will be required to rectify things,” he said.
Lawmaker Michalis Georgallas of Solidarity, a new political formation with three members of the parliament led by former Dysi deputy Eleni Theocharous known for her ultra-nationalist positions, said that his party could support the bills even as they are not far reaching enough. “We believe that a good start was made,” he said. “For heaven’s sake, we cannot talk about a reform. With these bills, a part of the civil service is modernised”.
Finance minister Harris Georgiades repeated yesterday his position that the parliament’s failure to reform the civil service and cap the increase of public payroll could lead to a fiscal derailment, as Cyprus’s public debt peaked last year at 108.9 per cent of economic output and the government’s credit rating remains two notches below investment grade.
Undersecretary Petrides said that it might have been a mistake by Cyprus’s international creditors which fund its cash-for-reforms programme which expired in March not to declare these reforms as prior actions required for the disbursement of a tranche.
“The troika respected that we had the ownership of the programme and thus did not want to give the message that they were pressuring us as we had good cooperation and were exiting the programme,” he said.