NEWS

Pandemic takes toll on public services

pandemic-takes-toll-on-public-services

The relationship between citizens and the public sector is growing increasingly tenuous as the changes in the working hours of many civil servants who now work remotely where possible, with extended leave for others, have come at the expense of the service provided.

This has been the experience especially of those members of the public that are not familiar with modern technology and therefore are unable to engage in digital communications in order to complete transactions with the state.

The problem also extends to businesses and professionals, who find it next to impossible to complete the most basic transactions, and on many occasions are forced to wait endlessly for certifications and other relevant documentation. 

Most of the complaints lodged by citizens with the Interior Ministry stem from their inability to contact tax offices, the Single Social Security Entity (EFKA) and the Civil Protection authority, which are in the highest demand due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

In order for citizens to visit a public service office they must first make an appointment over the phone as part of the safety protocols to limit crowds in order to contain the spread of the coronavirus. 

However, when no one answers the phones or they are constantly engaged, no appointment can be made and this only fuels frustration and the resentment of citizens who ultimately cannot be served.

This problem is particularly acute with tax offices, with professionals and individuals having to wait for weeks on end to get simple procedures done.

In other cases concerning EFKA offices, many people with disabilities have basically been left without their pensions or disability allowance.

Other complaints have to do with engineers who slam town-planning authorities for not even having e-mail capabilities.

One official reportedly said that staff at such offices are under constant psychological pressure as they have to deal with furious engineers on a daily basis.

The vicious cycle is not lost on authorities given that complaints are piling exponentially, especially after Interior Minister Panagiotis Theodorikakos encouraged the public to do. 

However, in practice it seems that these complaints have so far led nowhere as they have not forced the competent authorities at specific public services to ensure that their subordinates do not behave as if they were on an extended multi-month paid leave.