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25 June, 2024
 
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The overtime pay debacle and lessons in effective governance

The Cyprus government's crisis management style under the spotlight

Opinion

Opinion

By Charalambos Rossides*

The issue surrounding the payment of overtime compensation to the Deputy Government Spokesperson, Doxa Komodromou, has become the focal point of political discussion in recent weeks. Beyond the political aspects, the government's handling of the crisis is of particular interest. This case underscores that it is often not the crisis itself but its mismanagement that leads to disastrous outcomes.

"Invoking legality does not always restore a sense of justice. Instead, it raises questions in the public sphere about whether what is legal is also morally right."

1) In the initial stages of the crisis, the government's approach appeared to be one of "do nothing and hope it will blow over," as seen in the case of the 19-year-old social media consultant to the Deputy Minister of Tourism. They seemed eager to resolve the matter quickly by withdrawing the overtime request. However, the crisis persisted for a longer duration, beginning on 11/09 when it was brought up in the Parliamentary Finance Committee and finally concluding on 25/09 with Ms. Komodromou's resignation. This span of fifteen days witnessed headlines, negative publications, and extensive social media commentary.

2) Ms. Komodromou's initial reluctance to take political responsibility, coupled with the absence of clear positions from other government officials regarding the deputy government spokesperson's situation (not just overtime in general), led media outlets to conclude that the government was evading the issue. As long as the government remained silent, the media and social media reactions intensified. Notably, while Ms. Komodromou remained silent, citizens critiqued the controversial matter under her previous social media posts. In an interview with Kathimerini (01/10), she mentioned that "no journalist contacted me for ten days to ask for my perspective, so the issue was presented one-sidedly." It raises the logical question of why she did not express her standpoint through a written statement or social media post.

3) Furthermore, efforts to convey the message that national priorities took precedence in New York, mainly through leaks, likely did not find a receptive audience. The issue not only overshadowed discussions on the Cyprus problem but also unified the opposition. Opposition party members publicly distanced themselves from the issue, criticizing it. The reference to critical moments in the Cyprus problem was viewed more as an attempt to buy time or divert attention from the issue. Ms. Komodromou's public statement (25/9) about a well-orchestrated plan during a crucial moment when the President of the Republic was engaged in Cyprus problem discussions confirms the initial attempt at misdirection through leaks during the early days of the crisis.

4) The revelation that Government Spokesman Konstantinos Letymbiotis was signing the overtime documents kept the issue alive, adding another layer of political responsibility. However, his response during a morning radio show (22/9), where he stated that he merely certified the specific individuals' locations at that particular time, fueled further criticism, leading to a new wave of negative comments. Four days later (26/9), following Komodromou's resignation, he admitted in new statements that "a mistake was made de facto," emphasizing that "I acted in good faith, without deceit, and with no ulterior motives."

5) The President remained conspicuously absent from the crisis management scene during the initial two weeks. Statements were made by his associates, and the Presidency issued a statement (25/9) confirming the President's acceptance of the deputy government spokesperson's resignation. However, the fact that Ms. Komodromou was a choice of President Christodoulides, rather than a co-governing party, further damaged the President's image, as he had spoken about different ethical standards during the election campaign.

Before the controversy surrounding the Komodromos case had a chance to subside, a similar pattern of management appeared to be followed in the Chief of Police's pension-related matter. Control of the message was lost, and the communication landscape was not clearly defined by those directly involved.

Effective crisis management typically necessitates swift responses and decision-making, honesty, empathy, cooperation with journalists, message control, and taking responsibility (and offering apologies when needed). It requires determination and confidence. This is the only way to remove the issue from the public agenda, especially when citizens are highly interested in good governance matters, and their judgment is particularly stringent.

Avoiding political responsibility, attempting to divert attention, and responding belatedly have the opposite effect. Invoking legality does not always restore a sense of justice. Instead, it raises questions in the public sphere about whether what is legal is also morally right.

In conclusion, a communication crisis does not automatically equate to a tarnished reputation and negative publicity. Deviating from the norm can be a prime opportunity for positive publicity and for highlighting an institution's, organization's, or individual's preparedness, effectiveness, and sensitivity.

*Mr. Charalambos Rossides is the Director of Communication at GNORA Communication Consultants.

[This opinion piece was translated from its Greek original and may not evoke the exact nuance of the original]

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