Halloumi fiasco highlights bungling government
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!