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Petrides: Policy Makers are There to Change the System

Petrides: Policy Makers are There to Change the System

The Minister of Interior and formerly Under-Secretary to the President, Constantinos Petrides, spoke to GOLD about the reforms regarding the public service, e-government and the new Investment Law.

 

What are the major changes that have taken place during your time in office?

Where shall I start? The reform of the public service, the wage bill, the appraisal and promotion system, mobility within the civil service? Shall I continue with the e-government reform? The establishment of Deputy Ministries to cover the important governance gaps and “break” the rigidities of the 1960 structures of the state? The first-ever comprehensive tourism sector reform? The first-ever comprehensive and specific “action plan for growth”, which was also adopted by the European Commission? Or the first-ever reform of Cyprus’ Innovation and research policy? All these reforms constitute a huge effort. In some areas we delivered more results and in others the reform has been delayed. I also note the Local Government reform effort as far as the Ministry of Interior is concerned, as well as the new Investment Law and the establishment of the real “One-Stop-Shop”. This is just my portfolio. The reform effort has been huge, even by international standards. In many areas we made important advances, in others we faced unexpected problems and delays. The effort must continue and be completed.

 

How difficult was your task? Did you face a lot of opposition within the ministry?

There is always opposition from the establishment but what I identified from the civil service itself was a desire to change. Most employees and departments are victims of the inefficiencies of the system itself and they do want to change it. Of course, there are exceptions and “kingdoms” that want to protect their power so I did face a opposition from certain people and certain cases such as the Land Consolidation Department. The decision there was to abolish the Department. Nevertheless, a Minister should be able to manage any internal opposition from his own departments. It’s more difficult to manage the opposition coming from the political establishment and the House of Representatives and that’s where most reform efforts fail.

 

Regarding improved services to citizens, what has been achieved?

A lot. We delivered the platform for e-services to the public and now more than 80 services are offered electronically. We prepared a new law on e-signatures. We delivered a very modern and user-friendly electronic system for Land Registry issues. In the first quarter of 2018, we will deliver a comprehensive call centre for all services offered by the civil service. We extended the national Citizens Services Centres network and upgraded it to offer more services. We have the vision and the plan so that, in the next five years, all services provided by the state will be provided electronically and the CSCs will be the only point of physical contact between citizens and the Government. We know what needs to be done and we have already built strong foundations.

 

How difficult was this task? Did it require a new mindset on the part of civil servants? How did you go about introducing this?

Reforms always require changes of mindset in all parts of the world and changes of mindset always take time. But we shouldn’t always blame the mindset. Policy makers are there to change the system and the change of mindset will follow, sooner or later. The easiest thing for a politician is to do nothing and just blame the mindset but that’s a cheap excuse. I am not this kind of politician. Transition is always difficult and this is human nature, we are not robots that can be re-programmed automatically but we should keep trying to change, even when we know that in some areas we will fail and we will take the blame for it.

 

What single change would you point to as being your major achievement in the context of reform during your term of office?

Besides being part of the Government that saved Cyprus from disaster and bankruptcy? If you are asking exclusively about my own portfolio I would say the reform package regarding Research and Innovation, which was pioneering for Cyprus and, in the long term, will have a catalytic effect of how to reshape Cyprus. Politically, I believe I contributed to the Government effort to bring the concept of reform to the forefront, by discussing, proposing changes, doubting and challenging the system, even thinking about change. This is hugely important in a rather conservative and rigid environment like Cyprus.

 

What reforms involving your ministry remain incomplete and in need of implementation by the next government?

Local Government reform, introducing the “Island Plan” for Cyprus, reform of the Land Registry, setting up the one-stop-shop, a completely new policy regarding the management of the Turkish Cypriot properties, a new immigration policy. Even redefining and reconsidering drastically the role of the Ministry itself. A lot remains to be done and I hope that the new Government will have the same desire and decisiveness to “Keep walking” so that we can complete the transformation of this country.

 

In general, how important in your opinion is the concept of public service reform to Cyprus?

It is very important for every country. It should be understood that reform is a continuous effort. We shouldn’t let the system collapse and then try to reform it after it has failed. And this is what happened in Cyprus when we didn’t do anything for half a century. We collapsed and then tried to change a 60-year old anachronistic system in a very limited time. Of course, you cannot totally succeed. Change is a dynamic concept and it should be treated by the Government and the society as such. 

 

You led the Administrative Reform unit for almost five years but, as you say, significant work still remains. Are you confident that the next Government  – whoever is President – will continue the effort that you started?

No, not at all. Judging from the opposition candidates’ declarations, proposals, attitude and promises, I am afraid that in the case of their election, their only reform effort will be to reverse this Government’s reform efforts. They are ‘old school’ candidates supported by more conservative parties which, by definition, detest real reform and change. I think that, of all the candidates only a government led by Nicos Anastasiades can continue and give a new pace to the reform effort.

 

 

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