Who cares about on­line state ser­vices?


Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

Ev­ery time the Au­di­tor Gen­eral is­sues a re­port, usu­ally damn­ing the in­ef­fi­cien­cies of the gov­ern­ment ma­chine, the tar­geted de­part­ment or even gov­ern­ment Minister goes on the de­fen­sive, lam­bast­ing the watch­dog’s scru­ti­n­is­ing meth­ods and pick­ing on de­tails about let­ters and pro­ce­dures, ig­nor­ing, of course, the essence of the com­plaint.

Af­ter all, the Au­di­tor Gen­eral’s man­date is to thor­oughly re­view these pro­ce­dures in or­der to help im­prove them and boost the rate of pro­duc­tiv­ity in the public sec­tor, some­thing that all Pres­i­dents have pledged to sup­port. But of late, such mat­ters seem to be fall­ing on deaf eras, with the na­tion’s chief ex­ec­u­tive avoid­ing di­rect ac­tion for fear of up­set­ting his own cab­i­net mem­bers, de­spite the (in)ac­tions of se­nior public of­fi­cials, whose in­com­pe­tence places the Minister in an awk­ward spot.

One such mat­ter, de­spite the pre-elec­tion rhetoric to safe­guard mat­ters of ed­u­ca­tion, is the un­nec­es­sary de­lay in the pay­ment of an­nual state grants to univer­sity students. This is a pay­out that is much needed, es­pe­cially for fam­i­lies who have fallen on hard time.

De­spite the ap­pli­ca­tions hav­ing closed a long while back, the Min­istry in­spec­tors are still re­view­ing the ap­pli­ca­tions submit­ted in March. Ear­lier sub­mis­sions have been reviewed and paid out, while later ap­pli­ca­tions will prob­a­bly see grants paid out beyond Septem­ber or Oc­to­ber, by which time univer­sity students will have al­ready en­rolled in the new aca­demic year and ini­tial pay­ments for tu­ition fees or ac­com­mo­da­tion and other ex­penses will al­ready have ex­pired.

The (poor) ex­cuses given in­clude the over­load of ap­pli­ca­tion re­views, while pass­ing on part of the blame to the banks for not re­spond­ing promptly to re­quired data on as­sets and house­holds in­comes, in or­der to jus­tify the level of grants.

And this at a time when the Com­mis­sioner for Public Sec­tor Re­form keeps on is­su­ing dec­la­ra­tion af­ter dec­la­ra­tion that one or another ser­vice has been au­to­mated or is now avail­able on­line.

De­spite im­prov­ing the in­fra­struc­ture, the prob­lem is clearly the at­ti­tudes of pen push­ers, both in the public do­main and in the pri­vate sec­tor.

It’s no use talking about ef­fi­cien­cies, stream­lin­ing, au­toma­tion and on­line ser­vices, when those in charge of data en­try and re­view, over-the-counter ser­vices, as well as pick­ing up the tele­phone, are still liv­ing in the Dark Ages.

Al­though we have of­ten praised im­prove­ments in all as­pects of the econ­omy that can make Cyprus more ef­fi­cient and re­turn to a level of com­pet­i­tive­ness, this ap­a­thetic ap­proach can only be stopped if those in gov­ern­ment or large cor­po­rate bosses tell their em­ploy­ees to pull their sock up and do some work.

Be­ing afraid of union re­ac­tion or up­set­ting the hun­dreds of thou­sands of po­ten­tial vot­ers, just shows how keen those in power are pre­pared to en­act change, if anything.

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