EDITORIAL: Is Cyprus bridging the digital divide?

04 November, 2018 | Posted By: Financial Mirror

Nothing in Cyprus is ever achieved if the private sector initiative is not an integral part of its development and implementation, with all the benefits or ills this may entail.

Which is why a small event went unnoticed over the weekend when leading retailer chain Alpha Mega introduced self-check-out counters at its all-new Lakatamia store.

“What’s the big deal?” one might ask, assuming that this initiative fades in the shadow of the ambitious and often pompous declarations made by politicians and senior government officials. But does it?

The supermarket chain has taken upon itself to educate consumers on the benefits of efficiency that improves the customer experience and results in increased productivity of the store, as, ultimately, machines never make mistakes, but only the operators of such machines.

This novelty is not just part of our consumer culture and appreciating more how we behave in a store and how we spend our savings. It has more to do with embracing the digital age, or as was recently coined, closing the “digital divide”.

Undoubtedly, the biggest laggard in e-services in Cyprus is the government, as online service are unclear, finding application forms requires the knowledge of a detective hound and most important of all, hardly anyone replies to emails, let alone phone calls, which the incumbent Interior Minister had crusaded against in his then-capacity of Head of Public Reform.

Has anything changed? None whatsoever. Civil servants continue to leave their phones off the hook and only replace the receiver the minute they grab their bag and are about to walk out at the end of their working day. And if by chance your call is answered by someone, there is a 50:50 chance that the reply will be “not my department” pushing the caller to seek information elsewhere.

At the same time, the telecoms regulator announced this week that the government plans to fund the upgrade of the national grid to faster broadband speeds than we have today. But the problem again is twofold: what is the speed of the Cyprus fibre optic connection to the outside world? and, will it make civil servants respond to electronic requests any faster?

Until then, we can at least hope that Alpha Mega will next introduce the personal barcode scanner, something that would be of further use to consumers and less fathomable to civil servants.