Presenting the government’s plan ‘Cyprus – tomorrow’ on Monday, President Anastasiades described it as “ambitious and pragmatic”. Not only was the EU-funded plan geared towards helping the recovery of the economy, but it was also “the creation of a new vision for the country” that would work as “a road-map for the post-Covid era”.
The main objectives were to turn Cyprus into a resilient economy with high productivity and competitiveness, with an education system that provides the skills needed in the future, a country that is a pioneer of the green and digital transformation, with a resilient healthcare system, a welfare state that would protect all those in need and into a state with rule of law, transparency and accountability and strong mechanisms for fighting corruption.
Anyone who wants the country to move forward would back these plans by the government as they could indeed transform Cyprus. Executing them, however, might be easier said than done, given the snail’s pace at which reform and change are implemented. Public sector unions, always backed by the opposition parties, have for years been a major obstacle to reform because they fear their members’ interests and privileges would be affected.
After the meltdown of 2013, everyone agreed that local government was in need of radical restructuring, but both reform bills submitted to the legislature have been rejected. For years now, the government has been trying to open up the electricity market, but every attempt has been blocked by the EAC unions that do not want to surrender the authority’s monopoly – and the parties support them. It is one of the main reasons for the poor record on renewable energy sources. As regards education, Anastasiades said an evaluation system would be introduced for teachers, a change teaching unions have blocked for the last 20 years.
How will all these ambitious changes, blocked for years by the union-party syndicate, be implemented? We dread to think how Pasydy will react to digital transformation which would make a sizeable number of public service jobs superfluous and limit the power of many officials. It would be no surprise if the union’s members undermine all implementation plans, just like their comrades at EAC have done for years.
If these plans are to be pursued successfully, it is imperative for the government to devise implementation strategies – setting out short- and long-term targets, securing backing (or neutrality) from opposition parties, formulating a communications scheme among other things – for each reform objective. It would be naïve to think that these reforms can be introduced without strong resistance from the unions, which have traditionally been the biggest opponents of change.