The delays of the state services in dealing with citizens’ applications are a running joke. Neither computerisation in the 1990s nor digitalisation of the last seven, eight years have made much difference. There are almost 20,000 applications pending at the town planning authorities, some 100,000 cases are open at the Lands and Surveys offices – some for as long as 30 years – while applications for benefits and pensions take months to be processed.

This startling bureaucratic inefficiency leads to citizens turning to deputies for help. Akel deputy, Andreas Pasiourtides, speaking at a House committee that discussed the matter, said: “Parties and deputies he been reduced to offices serving citizens. Eighty per cent of our time is consumed on telephone calls to find out the reasons applications of citizens are being delayed at different state services.” The ombudswoman reported there was astonishing bureaucracy regarding benefits and her office had to interfere for state services to comply with court decisions.

Interior Minister Constantinos Ioannou attributed the delays to two main reasons. Forms were not completed properly, although he acknowledged their wording was not easy to understand. The second was understaffing, with public employees working conscientiously and doing overtime to cover a service’s needs. Understaffing is a very poor excuse. State mismanagement of human resources combined with a very poor record on digitalisation would be a more correct explanation. There are grossly overstaffed departments in which employees do very little and have no interaction with the public but are not moved to services in need of more workers, because of union objections and general mismanagement.

Digitalisation has also moved at a very slow pace and what has been done so far has been disappointing. Ioannou agreed with a deputy who criticised the poor design of websites of state services, which were not user-friendly and difficult to navigate. He also admitted he had great difficulty making a payment on the social insurance website. The combination of forms with wording that is incomprehensible to most people and websites that are difficult to navigate, ensures long delays remain in a citizen’s dealings with the state.

To make matters worse, the evaluation of a public employee’s work is unrelated to deliverables and meeting targets, which means none of them has an incentive to be more productive and efficient. The reality is that governments, over the years, despite the promises of improving service to citizens have failed to deliver, either because they are afraid of Pasydy or because they do not know how to do it – probably a bit of both. Add to these the complete lack of a service culture in the public sector and it becomes very clear why people wait for months or years to have applications approved.

The Christodoulides government has been very good on rhetoric about improving service to citizens, but so far it has done nothing, apart from introducing an evaluation system for public employees. What is needed is a general plan involving staff transfers, the setting of targets for workers dealing with the public, an overhaul of government websites to make them user-friendly and the speeding up of digitalisation which is moving at a snail’s pace. It should set timeframes for all these and get to work, because rhetoric alone will achieve nothing.