State appointments a constant disappointment

By Alexis Papachelas

This newspaper has written extensively about the appointments made within the top echelons of state-owned corporations. The expectation was that at such a critical phase for the country, the government would have appointed people with experience in business and extensive knowledge of how the market works rather than second-rate politicians.

However I recently heard a different argument that got me thinking. In fact I was very surprised to hear that the close aides of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras are thinking along the same lines as those who flanked his predecessors Costas Simitis and Costas Karamanlis.

I remember the late Nikos Themelis, an associate of Simitis, telling me about his experience in choosing people for executive positions.

“The prime minister would tell us to find the best people in the market to fill these posts. We would present him with a list that was a real Greek dream team. Then the rejections would start: ‘Please keep me out of it. I have a job already.’ When things got tougher we would arrange face-to-face meetings for two or three of the best candidates with the prime minister. He would tell them that it was their patriotic duty to serve their country and so on. The answer was the same: ‘I don’t want to get involved. Please don’t ask me to do this.’ So, we’d end up at the bottom of the list, with the riffraff, failed MPs and people who couldn’t land a job in the private sector. It was a constant disappointment.”

Similar discussions and meetings have taken place over the past few weeks at the Maximos Mansion, with the difference that the prime minister himself made the calls to approach the candidates. According to insiders, his appeal to their sense of patriotism and duty failed.

There is a real problem in the country when the cream of the crop refuses to take on any state responsibilities. No country can hope to move ahead if it cannot rely on its strongest members.

At the same time, I can sympathize with those who want to get on with their jobs, because anyone who accepts one of these posts will be faced with the following: a part of the media that will tear them apart whether they have done wrong or not, litigation-happy prosecutors who will use any legal loophole to block change; an army of insider leeches ready to bleed dry anyone who is given authority, a degrading salary and even personal danger.

Nothing can get done under such conditions, so the key is to create a framework that makes it possible for capable, honest people to become involved in the business of the state to their mutual benefit.