SOLVING THE LONG-STANDING PROBLEMS OF THE STATE MACHINERY
In my previous articles years ago and recently before the coronavirus pandemic had started, I referred to the long-standing problems affecting the services sector which downgrade Cyprus’ image as a financial centre see: https://inbusinessnews.reporter.com.cy/opinions/article/236888/problimata-poy-antimetopizei-o-tomeas-ton-ypiresion-kai-oi-etaireies-diethnon-drastiriotiton-edd-poy-meionoyn-tin-eikona-tis-kyproy-os) as well as regarding the dysfunction of the state machinery and had proposed a series of measures to address them.
It is honestly sad that so many years have passed to prove that in order for changes to take place we must be forced by others to do so (for instance the memorandum that had been imposed on us by our creditors due to the economic crisis that was caused by mismanagement of policies and the inability of controlling the system which resulted (at a great cost) in the achievement of significant progress regarding the resolution of State Finances and of the Banking System) or we must be forced ourselves to do so (e.g. the crisis caused by the pandemic and the time pressure to implement certain digital projects such as e-learning, teleworking in the private and public sector, the adoption of electronic procedures for processing employee and business benefits, the possibility of teleconferencing by the administrative bodies of the Courts, the electronic filing of applications with the Land Registration Office, the electronic filing of applications and transactions with the Social Insurance Services and the tax department (filing of tax statements, stamping of documents, etc.).
The Deputy Minister of Innovation recently made assurances that the above measures had been implemented in a period of 3 weeks due to the pressure of the pandemic crisis and announced the launch of new projects which are expected to be implemented in a few days, such as strengthening e-learning with high internet speeds up to 300 mgps, which would solve any gaps, the filing electronic applications with the courts and awarding tenders in the field of e-justice, the institutionalization of teleworking, electronic signatures, the announcement of a tender for the development of 5G networks and other important projects which were announced by the Ministry of Innovation and were posted on the Deputy Ministry’s website as e-government projects for the modernization of the state machinery, with a 5-year implementation horizon. There is of course a lot to be done in view of the fact that the EU Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI) for 2020 (digital progress of Member States) ranks Cyprus in the 4th place from the last).
It goes without saying that the modernization of the state machinery also presupposes the modernization of the public service, which is suffering and is assessed by the EU as failing the grade (see EU bulletin on the quality of public administration, which ranks Cyprus in the 5th place from the last in the areas of executive capacity and accountability due to its failure to implement the regulations that had been instituted by the EU, despite the standards that had been set and the incentives that had been given through funding).
The EU is proposing, inter alia, the implementation of well-designed e-government services which can transform the quality and efficiency of the provision of public services and eliminate customer relations in staff recruitment that can hinder any reasonable effort to build a better public administration.
The need for reforms for a more efficient and effective management of public affairs is systematically and temporally pointed out by the EU, by the OECD, by other bodies as well as by the political system and the presidential announcements of candidates. Despite the initiatives that have been taken from time to time and the steps that have undoubtedly taken place in recent years, the public service has not managed to monitor the evolution of the needs and demands of the Cypriot economy and society and is still lagging behind, even though civil servants are always paradoxically evaluated every year as excellent, always to the detriment of society and to the detriment of those civil servants who are conscientious and useful.
In view of the above, the following questions arise. Why should citizens be deprived for all these years of a modernized state machinery despite the fact it has been proven that everything can change within a short period of time? Whose interests does the outdated state machinery serve. Why weren't these projects carried out before and it was necessary for the pandemic to take place in order for us to be forced to modernize the structures of the state mechanism? Is it because the existing outdated system is favouring the lack of the rule of law and favouritism and does this serve the interests of certain persons? How is it possible for Cyprus’ public service, which presents countless problems, to employ only excellent employees? Is it necessary to immediately change the system of evaluating civil servants? Why has the relevant bill of law, that was submitted before the House of Representatives 2016, not been adopted? Why wasn’t a new bill of law submitted within a short period of time? The answer is simple and is answered by all political forces and competent bodies, who agree that the state machinery and the public service are in urgent need of reform in order to address bureaucracy problems, that there is a need to adopt laws and regulations to replace outdated legislation that was given to us, that there is a need to address the lack of coordination between governmental departments, to make reforms to the evaluations of civil servants as well as to address the lack of transparency and the intervention of political parties.
One can conclude that this system was maintained for so many years to serve specific individuals and their interests. We hope that there are no more excuses. They can no longer claim weakness, but unwillingness. If miracles happened in just a few days, think about what can be done in a few months or better in a few years due to the size of the state.
The political leadership of the country, the political parties and the competent bodies are once again exposed because it appears that any changes made were the result of pressure either due to the memorandum or due to the pandemic or due to the EU programs which we are obliged to implement in order to avoid sanctions.
The benefits of modernizing the state machinery in conjunction with the reform of the public service will be enormous in view of the fact that they will increase efficiency, there will be transparency and the citizens' trust in the state will be achieved through the provision of reliable and qualitative services that contribute to the development and strengthening of equal and active participation, with emphasis on improving the quality of life of citizens. Furthermore, the service and business sector, which is the lung of our economy and the largest source of revenue for the state, will also be strengthened.
The action taken by the Ministry of Innovation so far is considered positive and it seems that it can make a dynamic contribution to the implementation of e-government projects and the modernization of the state machinery and of the public service, provided that there is a political will to do so and that there is a broad consensus by the relevant bodies to support this. In this way we can get rid of the existing system which is outdated and tolerates bureaucracy, favouritism and the lack of transparency which affects the citizens’ sense of justice and does not serve society as a whole. We hope that the projects will proceed quickly and will not get stuck once again at various ministries which will have to approve funds nor remain as bills of law of the parliament nor get stuck at workers’ unions.
There are no more excuses! It has become apparent that we can, but do not want to make any changes, unless we are forced to do so. With the modernization of the state machinery, combined with the reform of the public service, our economy will grow and we will maintain our leading role in the services sector; otherwise we will end up once again at the bottom of the list and we will wonder what is wrong. The words I want and I can should become the norm, for a modernized state machinery, which will contribute to the creation of a modern, functional and citizen-friendly state for the benefit of the economy and the country where each citizen and every business will thrive, enjoy and prosper.
Panikos Symeou – Managing Partner