COMMENT

Unworkable state

By Angelos Stangos

Wise-headed observers have always agreed that the big wager for debt-wracked Greece is to overhaul its dysfunctional state apparatus through and through. These people are now finding it hard to accept some of the government’s decisions which effectively abolish entire categories of employees, particularly in the public sector.

One day the government decides to do away with all ERT employees, and then the next it decides to sack all municipal police officers, and after that, all school guards. And the heads will keep rolling until the requested target is met.

The Greek public sector has no doubt always been substandard. The country will never manage to get back on its feet without a radical overhaul of the state sector – no matter how big it is. It is also true that compared to the private sector, the public sector has escaped largely unscathed from the crisis. Finally, shaking up the Greek state will be no easy task. It will take brave decisions and tough actions given the ailing mentality, rampant bureaucracy and the distortions caused by chronic political and business entanglement.

We all know that the troika has from the very start called for the restructuring of the public sector, combined with cost cuts, layoffs, mobility schemes and workers’ assessments. In reality, spending has been contained to a large degree, even if that was achieved with across-the-board cuts. However, the government and the political class at large was never able to get on with a proper sorting out of organizations, services and employees so to rid the civil service of incompetent and oath-breaking staff. That is because of reactions from civil servants, foot-dragging among the judiciary, and the government’s own failings and lack of will.

So we have reached a point where the troika insists (its insistence is in fact often hard to understand) on mobility schemes and sackings while the government is scrapping entire categories of employees overnight because (like all previous governments) it never met the obligations it undertook. The troika expects the government to perform at 100 percent, disregarding the political and social repercussions of the painful measures. For its part, the government is carrying out the decisions in a state of panic, without any consideration about the consequences or the next steps.

Overall, the performance of the municipal police left a lot to be desired and school janitors were usually appointed under less-than-transparent procedures. That said, beyond the social dimension of the problem and the ugly reactions, has anyone really thought of how municipalities will police their neighborhoods or how schools will be protected against vandals?

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