Public service ‘electronically illiterate’
LAWMAKERS were told yesterday that the public would soon be able to settle queries with government departments through SMS messages, as deputies pushed for e-government to counteract crippling bureaucracy and bad service.
The House Institutions Committee was informed by the public administration and personnel department that the SMS system was expected to be up and running in 2013.
Some deputies said until then, the public would have to continue to endure the crippling bureaucracy and “attitudes” of certain public servants.
Speaking after the meeting, Committee Chairman, EVROKO’s Demetris Syllouris, underlined the need to promote the e-government as soon as possible.
The Social Welfare Department alone receives around 5,000 calls a day, said Syllouris. “Not only do the calls go unanswered, but they essentially highlight the public’s problem in being served, the problems in procedures, and also the public servant,” said Syllouris.
He added that 70 to 90 per cent of calls to the department concerned unemployment benefits.
Syllouris said his committee would continue to discuss the issue next week, in order to soon conclude on “a plan to reform the public service”.
“E-government needs to be introduced as soon as possible, as it is unheard of to not have systems to record the calls, letters and emails so there is a way for the superiors to keep check of the situation,” he said.
Syllouris – who said yesterday’s meeting showed that each state service was doing their own thing and there was no uniform system in place.
Opposition DISY’s Andreas Kyprianou said: “In the past five years – and I am speaking about Demetris Christofias’ government – absolutely nothing has happened to update the public administration.”
He said a modern European state could not operate with procedures that date back to 1960. “For someone to secure a document, it has to be stamped 20 times and go through 20 officials,” he said.
Ruling AKEL’s Irene Charalambidou said there was definitely margin for “significant improvements”. But she added that an electronic system could not operate as a substitute for human interaction, nor would it change the negative attitude of some public workers.
“Employees in the public service must understand that this is a service to the public and on the other hand the public needs to understand that it can’t exploit time or access,” said Charalambidou.
She wondered how many members of the public made use of the online services offered by many public departments, either to settle bills or seek information. “The service exists and is on offer,” she said.
The fact that the majority of the public would prefer to be informed by phone vastly contributed to the problem, she added. Just 10 per cent of employers and seven per cent of the self employed used the Social Insurance Service’s website to settle payments, she said.
Green Party MP George Perdikis said the technology used in the private sector for the past 25 years had not yet been introduced to state services.
“Apart from being very expensive and depleting state finances, our public service is also electronically illiterate and ancient,” said Perdikis.
He said over 778,000 people applied to the island’s six citizens advice centres in 2011, “which statistically means that there isn’t a Cypriot who didn’t apply to them in the past year”.
(Source: Cyprus Mail)
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