Hal­loumi fi­asco high­lights bungling gov­ern­ment

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - OPINION -

The way the hal­loumi fi­asco was han­dled this week, with the gov­ern­ment sheep­ishly own­ing up to drop­ping the ball in los­ing the na­tional cheese trade­mark in the UK, con­firms an ab­sence of checks and bal­ances in the state mech­a­nism, as well as the lack of re­spon­si­bil­ity, at any level.

With the fu­ture of the po­ten­tial 300-mil­lion-euro ex­port in jeop­ardy, due to the bungling of a hand­ful of civil ser­vants, Cyprus now has to (once again) em­bar­rass it­self in front of its part­ners, drop down to its knees and beg for mercy from the Bri­tish au­thor­i­ties, to pre­vent the ‘hal­loumi’ brand from fall­ing into en­emy hands. Then again, is the en­emy at the gates or within?

One sce­nario sug­gests that the Cypriot-owned firm in the UK went ahead and se­cured the hal­loumi trade­mark with the bless­ing of the en­tire Cyprus dairy fam­ily, see­ing as the gov­ern­ment could not make up its mind on how to han­dle the dossier that de­ter­mines the Prod­uct of Des­ig­nated Ori­gin. If this is the case, good for them, and it was about time the pri­vate sec­tor picked up the slack and re­placed the gov­ern­ment that has proven to be un­re­li­able, in­com­pe­tent, slow, with an at­ti­tude mal­func­tion.

Civil ser­vants are of­ten ar­ro­gant when un­der­tak­ing a task, ei­ther be­cause of a know-it-all at­ti­tude or be­cause they are un­aware of the full ex­tent of the nec­es­sary reg­u­la­tions in each case of an ar­gu­ment, ap­pli­ca­tion or process.

This also ex­plains why gov­ern­ment em­ploy­ees fear to pick up the phone when it rings end­lessly at their of­fice, not know­ing who could pos­si­bly be at the other end and what that poor cit­i­zen might be ask­ing for.

There is no doubt that if any re­spon­si­bil­ity is found in the ac­tions or in­ac­tions in han­dling the hal­loumi de­ba­cle, that the civil ser­vants’ trade union will rush to rally sup­port, not be­cause a col­league needs to be de­fended, but to pre­vent set­ting a prece­dent where other gov­ern­ment em­ploy­ees could be rep­ri­manded, de­moted or even laid off for not do­ing what they are be­ing paid for, their duty to serve the pub­lic in­ter­est.

After all, this is the class of peo­ple who were un­scathed by the 2012-13 eco­nomic col­lapse and cri­sis that fol­lowed, the same peo­ple who en­joy a pri­vate Na­tional Health Scheme by hav­ing priv­i­leged ac­cess to state hos­pi­tals, and who have kicked up a fuss when­ever any ad­min­is­tra­tion has tried to cur­tail their pay in­creases. And does the buck stop here? Surely not. The two com­pe­tent min­is­ters (Trade and Agri­cul­ture) should have kept a close watch on de­vel­op­ments, as they knew all too well that there had been prob­lems, ei­ther in the U.K., with the case pend­ing in court for more than a year, or even in Brus­sels with the progress of the PDO ap­pli­ca­tion.

And, if they claim that they were not prop­erly briefed, that too is part of the re­spon­si­bil­ity of be­ing a leader, where one has to show a bal­ance of prais­ing those who go above and be­yond to do their work and ac­com­plish achieve­ments, and rep­ri­mand­ing those who are con­tent with just show­ing up for work and col­lect­ing their pay cheque at the end of the month.

After all, was the 2013 fi­nan­cial cri­sis not partly the re­spon­si­bil­ity of the se­nior civil ser­vants who failed to fully brief the min­is­ters of fi­nance of the real pic­ture?

It is un­for­tu­nate that the Trade Min­is­ter is shielded by his En­ergy port­fo­lio, pro­mot­ing only the nat­u­ral gas projects, that might never ma­te­ri­alise with­out a Cyprus so­lu­tion, while the Agri­cul­ture and En­vi­ron­ment Min­is­ter also as­pires to sell hal­loumi to ev­ery Chi­nese house­hold, boost­ing our ex­ports mul­ti­fold, re­gard­less if we have suf­fi­cient amounts of milk.

When no state of­fi­cial or worker cares or lifts a fin­ger to as­sist and pro­mote pri­vate sec­tor ini­tia­tives, the writ­ing on the wall is abun­dantly clear: Pri­va­tise the Gov­ern­ment!

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