National Guard conscripts serving their mandatory army time will be relieved of kitchen duties and diverted to operational needs early in 2017, according to defence ministry planning.
Traditionally, among their normal duties like standing guard and undergoing combat training, some conscripts are assigned non-military duties, including preparing and cooking meals for their unit.
According to ministry estimates, such duties keep some 400 conscripts from following the normal daily schedule, at a time when operational shortages forced the government to hire 3,000 professional soldiers earlier this year.
A trial-period arrangement, by which the daily preparation of meals will be outsourced to civilian professionals, thus releasing the conscripts now tied up in such tasks, is slated for introduction early next year at a limited number of units.
According to daily Politis, which broke the story, the defence ministry had tried to address the issue in the past, but outsourcing catering duties had been deemed costlier than the existing arrangement and the plan was abandoned.
However, the paper added, analysis at the time had failed to factor in the payroll cost of conscripted and permanent staff tied up in meal preparation and kitchen duties and the respective loss of manpower for operational needs.
A new study has shown that outsourcing catering would be financially and operationally beneficial.
As a result, the ministry plans to introduce two alternative outsourcing methods in a limited number of units, one to prepare meals on-site and another to do it off army camps.
The measure is expected to free up some 400 individuals, allowing them to carry out strictly military tasks.
An added bonus would be that the food is expected to be of better quality, since it will be prepared by professionals.
A similar arrangement could be introduced with regard to military entertainment units and kiosks selling consumables within army camps – also operated by conscripts.
The goal, in this case, is transparency and combating corruption, as the primary object of the kiosks is to give conscripts access to basic, everyday goods, not profit.
Citing unnamed sources, Politis said these arrangements would be compatible even after a possible solution to the Cyprus problem, since the federal state will maintain security forces, mandated with addressing external threats.
In this context, the ministry is pressing on with the reorganisation of the National Guard, since existing personnel and facilities will be utilised after a solution.
A spokeswoman for the defence ministry has told the Cyprus Mail that, although decisions have not been finalised as of yet, the ministry is likely to proceed with the test-runs.