Rarely has the public administration run so thinly (if we are talking about impossible procedures, lack of empathy on the part of officials or unjustified delays) as has been done by the Sitges City Council's Citizens' Service Office, to which the Grievances Ombudsman has just scolded. what did he do A citizen dissatisfied with the treatment received in these offices asked for the complaints sheet. At the office, they told him that he had to make an appointment. Thus, they would give him a day and time to return and embody his protest in this book.
The Grievance Ombudsman has made it very clear to the Sitges City Council: "Redirecting a person to manage the complaints sheet through the electronic headquarters, by prior appointment, is not an example of effective service and closeness to the citizen, which it is what every administration must pursue".
It is just one example of the increasingly tense relationship between citizens and public officials. The public administration – it is a widespread feeling – is on its way to becoming an inaccessible wall for citizens. And the officials themselves admit it, overwhelmed by the overload of work in this post-pandemic era.
Dozens, if not hundreds, of calls without anyone answering on the other end; you wait weeks, if not months, to see an ordinary procedure completed; patience stretched to the limit to follow the steps of computer programs required for an appointment; hours standing upright in the street in front of a door to receive face-to-face care...
These are scenes and realities that are repeated in public offices. More than 60 days of waiting for a court procedure, a long month of patience before an appointment to renew the ID or passport, more than 50 days to get an answer for an immigration-related procedure, years of wait for a non-urgent medical intervention... And it doesn't end there.
This widespread feeling among the population that the wall of public bureaucracy is getting higher and higher has coincided with a hangover left by covid: telecommuting. The Central Government – it is processing the Civil Service law – is clear about its intentions with this model in the public administration: "Teleworking does not constitute a right of the public employee".
An attitude that has not pleased unions such as the CSIF, which demands the implementation by law of 3 days of telework for public companies (ICO, Paradors, Adid, Aena, Renfe...) as had already been achieved during the pandemic with the employees of the offices of the General Administration of the State (AGE).
There is no data on whether this lack of staff in public offices, which are now at home, has contributed to this decline in face-to-face treatment, replaced by appointments. But there is a figure that reveals the new reality for the AGE bodies (each autonomy can manage teleworking with its workers) pointed out in a study done by The Objective. At the end of March, 53,742 officials were working remotely, which represents 41.43% of state office workers. Among private companies, the percentage of telecommuting is around 12%.
And all, as if that wasn't enough, with the irruption of a new step in this public labyrinth that traps the citizens, until they are taken out of the loop. It is the prior appointment - now in the focus of complaints -, a great "invention" during the pandemic and that many offices keep in force when there are no longer reasons. Another unwanted covid hangover? The answer can be read in the words of the Valencian Ombudsman, Ángel Luna. Public offices have become, after the pandemic, "a hostile land for citizens", he says. the test? The complaints keep increasing.
The problem is repeated throughout the public administration and the hangover from the pandemic is now the perfect excuse for not attending to, as La Luna denounces, "many demands from citizens or to demand requirements, sometimes impossible". Relying everything on the internet, as was done during the pandemic, is no longer acceptable. And less so through complicated web pages.
Esther Giménez-Salinas, Commissioner of Complaints, was the first to warn that the prior appointment or the virtual contact, effective to stop the contagion of covid, "cannot now be required for all procedures". There is no longer a pandemic and the citizen has the right to be attended to in person at the offices, where there are now no distances or capacity limitations due to health emergencies.
The Ombudsman, Ángel Gabilondo, has also added to this call for attention to the public administration due to the drift of these offices and the increase in complaints. And he has done so with special attention to the Social Security headquarters, at the time when he described as "unacceptable" the delays in considering the citizen and granting appointments.
From all these offices, when someone is interested in what is happening there, the same request is heard: "personnel and media". So no one should be surprised by the latest escalation of protests among public officials. Many feel singled out and, although they admit that at the moment the citizen is almost always right, they say that they lack hands to reach everything.