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Our View: Civil service can’t support digitisation and more jobs

ΠτΔ – 60ό Συνέδριο ΠΑΣΥΔΥ // por – 60th p
Christodoulides at the conference under a banner saying Responsible, Productive, Reliable

It would have been a big surprise if President Christodoulides had gone to his first Pasydy conference not bearing gifts. Pandering to the civil servants at their annual conference is a tradition all presidents have honoured, and nobody expected Christodoulides to break with the past.

Addressing the opening of the 60th annual conference of Pasydy on Tuesday, the president announced that from next year the government would restore the shift allowance and overtime pay for civil servants and these would be fully restored by the end of 2025. He also spoke about the evolution of the civil service into a “more flexible, more productive, more effective mechanism,” that would modernise the mode of operation of public administration.

Such comments are also a fixture in the presidential address to the union’s conference, although nobody expects them to come to anything as Pasydy has traditionally blocked any attempts at change by the government aimed at improving efficiency. The president still feels duty-bound to pay lip service to improvements, like utilising modern technology.

But if the government intends to utilise modern technology, why had it submitted a bill for the opening up of 1,536 first appointment jobs in the civil service? The bill also envisages the opening of 315 jobs in the broader public sector. Yet the president, in his election campaign had repeatedly spoken about the digitalisation of the state sector. This would surely reduce staffing needs, even though he did not mention this.

It seems absurd that the state would be preparing for digitalisation by hiring another 1,536 civil servants. If anything, it should be setting a target of reducing the number of civil servants over the next three years rather than increasing them to pre-digitalisation levels and pushing up the public payroll.

Deputies at the House finance committee on Monday refused to give the go-ahead to the opening of the jobs and have asked for explanations from the finance ministry about the proposed mass recruitment of civil servants. While acknowledging there may be a need for extra staff in some departments, deputies could not accept, quite rightly, the opening up of all the posts demanded by the government was justified.

The government could blame the Anastasiades government, which had taken the decision for the opening up of the jobs and included a provision in the state budget, but it had no obligation to implement the decision, given its commitment to digitalisation. In the rest of the world digitalisation is seen as a way of cutting costs because it makes many jobs redundant. In Cyprus, the government seems determined to buck the trend. The digitalisation of the state will coincide with a much higher payroll.

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