What does a normal day at the ministry entail?
Well, it entails about 7 to 10 meetings of many different subjects, with either the Minister or my colleagues, as well as other parties involved with the Ministry of Education and Culture. It also includes being present at various events like this one, visiting schools and Universities, as well as attending cultural activities, which also occupies a significant part of my time. I am also the President of the board of directors of the Cyprus Symphony Orchestra Foundation, so this is a parallel job that I do.
In addition, I go through a lot of files and try to solve various problems, as every day is a problem solving day. I try to be efficient and quick in taking decisions. This is not an easy job, but it is a challenging one.
What is your favourite memory from your time as a student at the English School of Nicosia?
It would have to be the musical events that were organised, for example the choir, the concerts and the Greek night. Music has always been my hobby, so these were the most exciting times for me.
What is the most fundamental skill that your studies at the London School of Economics and Political Science have taught you in terms of getting the Ministry running as efficiently as possible?
At the LSE we learned how to apply critical thinking, which is a very important aspect of my job. This quality is also what we want to promote in our schools. This involves learning to make a synthesis of various views, looking at things from a critical prospective, speaking your mind and making fast decisions. It also is crucial not to be dogmatic, but rather to learn to listen to many views and opinions, and then make your decision accordingly. This I consider important. I believe I am a democratic person, who uses a human approach concerning management, and this is another skill that I acquired from the LSE.
Having been involved with music from a very young age, and now being President of the board of directors of the Cyprus Symphony Orchestra Foundation, what is the significance of music in your life?
I was involved with music since I was 4 years old, as my father was a Music Teacher. I remember students coming at home, having their music lessons with my father, who bought a little piano for me when I was 3 or 4 years old. I remember listening, as the students were having their lessons, and one day I said to my father “Come on dad, I want to show you something”, and then played for him, on my little piano, by ear, what I had listened the students play to, on their instruments. My parents thought that this was promising, and so this was the start of my studies in music, which I then finished at the Ethnikon Odeon, having also obtained qualifications from the Royal Schools of Music. With the qualifications I had at the time, I could get a job as a Music Teacher, but I chose to study Economics and Management, and keep music as a very nice hobby at the side. I would say that this involvement with music has enriched my life and it relaxes me from the stress of everyday routine. I feel grateful that, as I am approaching the end of my career, music has entered my life in an official capacity through my chairmanship of the board of the directors of the Cyprus Symphony Orchestra Foundation.
Working in the Ministry, where the Minister may change often, how do you manage to maintain continuity in your endeavours, while co-operating with different people who wave different mind sets and different approaches to problems?
Well this is one of the features of the job, the fact that Ministers may change. I have been Permanent Secretary for 9 years, 4 and a half being at the Ministry of Agriculture, Natural Resources and the Environment, and the rest in the Ministry of Education and Culture. This is now the 6th Minister I have worked with, which shows that change can happen very often. The key is to approach a person and to try to understand their personality and character, since people are different and not everyone can be approached in the same way. Therefore, I am flexible, and usually understand how people should be approached. Additionally, I have to be concise and productive at doing my job, in order to brief them on major issues concerning the Ministry, as well as to introduce them to the Management team. This is more intensive during the first few months. Of course, I remain at their disposal later on for anything they want to discuss. Overall, I did not face any problems with the change of Ministers. Concerning the second part of your question, yes, there are different people, each with different mind sets. Sometimes people can be strange even, which is a challenge, but the only way to face this, is to stick to principles. Although I use a human approach, as I said earlier, I have a lot of patience, seldom raise my voice and try not to intimidate others, there are times, where there is no other choice but to be firm and try to get them to understand that there are principles that should not be violated. If they are, the proper thing must be done and disciplinary rules must be followed. This is of course the last resort: overall, if you are democratic and show respect to others, they respect you too and you have no problem with individual personalities.
When there are scandals regarding the Ministry, how do you handle negative publicity from the media?
This is a very interesting question, because often, what the media present may not always be as it seems. A small problem can easily be exaggerated, because media think this will be more interesting for people to read. We have achieved many things at the Ministry concerning Education and Culture, and it is unfortunate that any positive developments do not get the publicity they deserve. I am disappointed in the sense that what is often being presented doesn’t reveal all aspects of the matter.
During my early days as a Permanent Secretary I actually tried to tackle this problem, as I thought that this was because media were not aware of the full story. On one occasion, when they had written something while I was at the other ministry, I called the journalists, and told them “I want to brief you about this, because it appears that there are some things that have been misunderstood”. I then told them all the details regarding the matter. However, on the next day, I saw the same things written once again, without any attention to what I had explained. So I decided that sometimes this problem cannot be tackled. Of course, if something negative is written, we always issue a statement as a Ministry with a view to explaining our own perspective. If however a real scandal is revealed by the press, which can happen, then we take steps, for example making an investigation, send the result to the Attorney General and follow his advice on the matter. Generally, one has to be calm and cool about negative publicity. This is the only way.