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Our View: Will the latest public service reforms go far enough?

Finance Minister Harris Georgiades

THE GOVERNMENT is making another attempt to reform civil service. Its last attempt, in 2016, was rejected by the legislature for a variety of unconvincing reasons, the best one which was from Diko that claimed the proposed reform did not go far enough. Preserving the malfunctioning, inefficient and inflexible system run by rusfeti was preferable, by Diko’s logic, to attempting making improvement because this did not go far enough.

Will the latest reforms, which were finalised after consultations with the interested parties, go far enough? Finance Minister Harris Georgiades is convinced they will, as reforms combined with digitisation will “improve to a significant degree the way the civil service operates.” He has no choice but to be optimistic even though he is dealing with a monolithic organisation, dominated by a militant union that enjoys the unwavering support of opposition parties.

The main objective of the reforms is the rationalisation of the evaluation of job performance of each civil servant, introducing objective procedures for promotions and opening up management positions across the service. All measures are aimed at overcoming the influence of the civil servants’ union Pasydy, which considers the principle of seniority sacrosanct and has always opposed moves to introduce meritocracy. Ninety-nine per cent of civil servants receive the top mark for job performance, which means this cannot be a criterion for promotion, leaving seniority and party links as the main criteria.

With the reforms, the government will not only get around this problem but also tackle another restrictive measure imposed by Pasydy – that a management position in a specific department could only be taken by a civil servant working in that department. Under the new plans, a civil servant from any ministry can apply for a vacancy, thus opening up healthy competition for managerial positions. Moving people from one ministry or department to another would also tackle the toxic complacency that plagues the civil service. It may also pave the way for the transfer of civil servants to new ministries, something Pasydy has always resisted.

This is the theory. Whether there will be honest evaluations of the work done by each civil servant and when the reform bills are passed, is another matter. One proposed measure, however, does not seem to have been well thought out. It envisages employees evaluating their manager and although well-intentioned, it could act as a disincentive to manage properly for fear of alienating subordinates. This is a minor point compared to when we consider the drastic changes the government is trying to make to the union-imposed ethos of the civil service.

Perhaps this time the reforms will go far enough for Diko to back them.

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