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Our View: New economic growth bodies are a great idea if properly run

THE GOVERNMENT is pushing its plans to create three undersecretariats for the major growth areas of the economy – investment, tourism and shipping – which have recorded impressive growth since the 2013. Bureaucracy and the involvement of different ministries in the decision-making process slowed things to such an extent that the economy was losing out. By putting each sector under a single administrative roof, the government feels procedures will be speeded up and make things easier for businesses.

The Cyprus Investment Promotion Agency (CIPA) – which has been arguing for some time that excessive bureaucratic delays are putting off investors – highlighted the need for these undersecretariats on Wednesday.

“This will be a development that will address the biggest problem faced by the country as business centre – bureaucracy – because for the first time all the mechanisms involved in facilitating an investment will be under the supervision and co-ordination of a single carrier,” CIPA said in a statement.

It also pointed out that a recent survey it carried out among foreign investors found that the attractiveness of the country was adversely affected by bureaucratic delays.

We have been hearing about these delays for decades, but no government has been able to do anything to tackle them. Before accession to the EU a government came up with the idea of the one-stop shop, through which foreign businesses would carry out all their dealings with the state, but this dealt primarily with the issuing of work permits.

Now it is a different ball-game, with businesses interested in setting up operations having dealings with a range of government departments, all of which have to follow time-consuming procedures, not to mention the negativity with which state bureaucrats treat foreign businessmen.

Although CIPA is absolutely right in demanding faster procedures, it is questionable whether this will be achieved by the establishment of undersecratariats. They will still be staffed by civil servants who are suspicious of business, accustomed to shuffling papers, used to referring decisions to committees and generally happy to work at a leisurely pace. Will there be any guarantee that the undersecretariats will be more efficient than the rest of the public sector, or will the government simply add more workers to the public payroll without any improvement in the service offered to investors?

It is difficult not to be sceptical about such initiatives, especially a few months before presidential elections. The undersecretariats could be just another excuse by the government to create more state jobs, considering it will be unable to transfer civil servants from other departments. Having an integrated service is a good idea, but not if it will be staffed by unproductive public employees.

If the government really wants to improve things – not just for foreign investors – it has to retrain civil servants, impose maximum response times for applications, monitor the output of departments and undertake all measures to improve efficiency.

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