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Did Mari blast present any opportunities

WE ALL have feelings of sorrow and anger following the July 11 disaster at Mari. We are all trying to cope with the aftermath: mourning, power cuts, business and personal disruption, costs we will have to bear, uncertainty on the impact on state finances. We are all seeking to apportion responsibility.

But could it be that disaster can also bring opportunities?

The explosion is also a call to arms, revealing tremendous weaknesses in our polity, uncovering much that we always knew was wrong with Cypriot politics, politicians, civil servants and civil society -ourselves.

It is time we think of ways ahead in a positive way.

On July 21, we at Performa Consulting ran an open meeting of our Out of the Box Club to see what the positives could be.

Thirty people j oined from different backgrounds including business, journalism, public relations, environmental consulting, academia, government, banking, finance, legal, accounting, sales and the arts. All agreed to refrain from blaming and focus on exploring opportunities and finding ways of addressing the challenges that arise.

What opportunities arise from the Mari disaster?

We identified five major opportunities.

  • Significantly improve the performance of our civil service and public organisations.
  • Achieve fiscal sustainability, rapidly.
  • Organise as members of civil society to make our political representatives more accountable.
  • Develop a culture of Health & Safety.
  • Expedite the shift to renewable energy.

Key ideas to address these opportunities are summarised below:

OPPORTUNITY 1: Significantly improve the performance of our civil service

  • Define and implement performance indicators for each ministry, department and person with efficiency and accountability metrics. Evaluate people according to performance and make it possible to fire or reduce the pay scale and grade of civil servants with poor performance.
  • Demand that all senior civil servants increase productivity in their departments (say by 10 per cent pa) or be demoted. This demand is comparable to what is asked of most people with managerial responsibilities the private sector.
  • Make customer service a value to be adhered to by all civil servants at all levels and implement appropriate metrics. "Who is my customer?" must be asked by all public servants on a continuous basis - it should be clear that everybody in the civil service is serving a customer or a colleague who is serving a customer.
  • Audit the civil service, independently and systematically. We could:
  1. Hire mystery shoppers to monitor government services on a systematic basis.
  2. Hire professionals to benchmark our civil service with others
  3. Create a jury of private citizens to monitor public servants job evaluations
  4. Make internal audit reports publicly available
  5. Organise people to report cases of government irresponsibility and inefficiency online

OPPORTUNITY 2: Achieve fiscal sustainability, rapidly

  • Link public sector salaries and benefits packages to comparable private sector jobs.Eliminate combined salary scales.
  • Eliminate COLA or restrict it to people at the very lowest salary scales.
  • Reduce the number of public employees by hiring one for every 10 who leave.
  • By constitutional amendment cap the number of civil servants to 10 per cent of the working age population (including state, municipal and semi-governmental organisations).
  • Privatise as many public organisations as possible, as fast as possible. Make it obligatory for proceeds to be directed to alleviate the public debt. In addition to generating cash for debt alleviation many other benefits will ensue from open competition and from politicians and parties losing the unproductive privileges and power associated with appointing "their own" to public office.
  • Legislate to reduce public spending by X % per year for the next Y years [to this one can add an idea attributed to Warren Buffet - if the budget deficit exceeds Z % in any year ministers are obliged to resign and disallowed from public office and representatives are ineligible for re-election].
  • Reduce bureaucratic costs that burden the private sector.

OPPORTUNITY 3: Organise as members of civil society to make our political representatives more accountable

  • Design clear job descriptions of each political post. Monitor performance and sack with no pension if default.
  • Teach social responsibility in schools perhaps with parents participation to overcome inertia.
  • Introduce processes of public scrutiny for all people appointed to senior public office.
  • Create question time for president and ministers in the House of Representatives and beyond.

OPPORTUNITY 4: Develop a culture of Health & Safety

  • Network neighbourhoods and municipalities to link-up responsible people on a voluntary basis. Organise so each member of a team is responsible for someone else.
  • Turn the focus of our armed forces to rescue operations.
  • Develop a special corps of women (doing mandatory National Service?) for Health and Security and Rescue Operations.
  • Develop enjoyable ways of teaching Health & Safety at schools, public and private organisations, to raise awareness on the cause of accidents and instil a culture of accountability and responsibility for the safety of others. The arts and theatre can also be used to this end.
  • Establish zero-tolerance for errors where appropriate, eg smoking at petrol pumps or when guarding explosives.
  • Develop risk and crisis management programmes for public and private organisations. Recognise that risk is present in everything we do and that its severity is measurable.

OPPORTUNITY 5: Expedite the shift to renewable energy

  • Government should use school roofs for solar energy collection and solar energy for its own electrical consumption and public consumption eg street lighting.
  • Introduce tax breaks for homes/businesses investing to convert their properties to be more energy efficient.
  • Educate on renewable energy at all levels and increase awareness of energy efficiency.
  • Legislate so all new buildings come with part solar energy and other energy efficient specifications.
  • Every household turns off all electrical power for three hours a day forever more.
  • Reward people for notably reducing their energy consumption.
  • Introduce a "Tips & Tricks" website on energy saving in many languages. Offer special prizes for people inventing good new tips

Many of the above involve expenses. However now is the opportunity to seriously weigh costs and benefits of reconstructing what was destroyed with those of investing in partial reconstruction plus renewable energy support.

Our ideas were generated in less than three hours. Some ideas are simple and straightforward, others a little more way out. We could have more such sessions to generate more ideas. We could improve the ones we already have. Of course ideas are good only if implemented, so here are two further questions:

  1. Are our politicians and public servants capable of implementing the above?
  2. How might we, citizens ensure their implementation?
Let us connect as people on a personal, professional and political level to change our society in a meaningful way. And let us allow our own mindsets to be open to change.

Published on July 31, 2011

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