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Our View: Improvement of productivity is not an option

finance ministrey

The government seems determined to go ahead with the ‘unfreezing’ of 1,851 positions in the public service as the little political resistance encountered when it took its proposal to the legislature a few weeks ago appears to have collapsed. Only a small pocket of resistance remains, questioning the wisdom of a move that would add another €55 million to the public payroll, according to the most conservative estimates of the finance ministry.

The president of the Fiscal Council, Michalis Persianis, to his credit, stands alone as the only public official opposing the opening of the posts. He has been completely ignored, even though the fiscal council was set up to ensure, in an advisory role, that the executive exercised a degree of fiscal discipline. In a letter sent to the House finance committee, Persianis expressed concern about the hirings, arguing that in its cost estimate the government had not included the side costs such as CoLA, pay increments and promotions.

He also made a very important point that has never entered government employment policy. “We consider that any expansionary policy as regards the public payroll, should proceed only after the completion of serious and aggressive efforts for improvement of productivity,” he wrote, acknowledging that this was rarely practised.

Improving productivity, like streamlining, is never an option for government, because it is terrified of having to confront Pasydy union, which is a staunch defender of the colossal inefficiencies, over-staffing and low productivity that have always been features of the civil service. Any talk of improvements in efficiency and organisation is dismissed as an attack on the ‘conquests’ of civil servants, as if underperforming at your job is a worker’s right.

Finance ministry permanent secretary, Giorgos Panteli, illustrated the government’s aversion to the idea of improving productivity, when he wrote to the House that “the posts in question are deemed necessary for the smooth operation of the public service.” He also said that the ‘unfreezing’ of the 1,851 new posts had been budgeted and taken into account for budget planning. In other words, because the correct procedures were followed, the government’s decision had to be approved by the legislature.

Had any attempt been made to improve productivity in public service before this decision? Is Cyprus the only country in the world in which digitalisation of the public sector has led to the need for more workers? Since the posts were frozen, some ten years ago, we have seen the arrival of digitalisation, which should ensure the smooth operation of the public service, without the need of hiring more workers. Why does the government not focus on speeding up the introduction of digitalisation? That is probably too rational an option, and it is entirely possible that Pasydy had vetoed it.

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