Cyprus Mail

Our View: The return of old habits that led to bankruptcy of the state

Head of Pasydy Glafcos Hadjipetrou

EVEN though none of the bills for reforming the public service were approved by the legislature, the provision linking the annual pay rise to the rate of growth of GDP was made part of an agreement signed yesterday by the finance minister and the leader of Pasydy.

It was also agreed that there would be no general pay rise this year and 2018 even though the annual wage increments, which represent increases of 2 to 3 per cent, would be given.

In other words, the best-paid group of workers in the economy, apart from having their salaries restored to pre-bailout levels from the start of 2017, will also receive pay rises. This puts into perspective the ‘sacrifice’ civil servants have made. It would have been outrageous if they were given a general pay rise on top of the wage increments which are guaranteed to all of them regardless of productivity and performance.

The reality is that the old habits, which led to the bankruptcy of the state in 2012, are back. The public payroll is back on the growth path and the government’s decision to impose a freeze on appointments is no safeguard against the situation veering out of control again in a few years. The finance ministry kept the door open for some appointments, saying the following in a statement issued yesterday: “Any needs that emerge for categories of vacancies will be evaluated on a quarterly basis via the procedure provided by the legislation and possible unfreezing requests will be forwarded to parliament for approval.”

Can any government be trusted to keep the freeze in place? As presidential elections approach “unfreezing requests” will no doubt increase significantly, not to mention the danger of a new government scrapping the freeze. This is the way our politicians operate and it is naive to think they would show responsibility and exercise caution in the future, something they had done only when they were force to by the Troika. If President Anastasiades believes his re-election prospects would improve by hiring another 1,000 public employees before the end of the year, his prudent finance minister would not be able to stop him – this government hired 3,000 full-time army privates last year.

Things may have been a different if the government’s bills for the reform of the civil service were approved last year but all the opposition parties voted against them. They had the nerve to criticise the agreement signed between the government and Pasydy yesterday, some of them noting that public finances would encounter problems soon. This is inevitable when the political establishment, in its entirety, panders to civil servants and lacks the courage to engage or back radical reform of the all-devouring beast that is the public service.

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