Students hit a police bus as they clash with riot police during a protest against educational reforms in Athens, Friday.
A routine transaction with the Greek civil service can easily develop into an odyssey of irrationality. There is nothing original about this observation. The problems of the country’s unreformed public administration have been swelling, albeit with fluctuations, for decades now. However, taking stock of recent developments, we appear to be sliding back to the 1980s, according to one of the country’s foremost pundits on the matter.
Recent jibes from Brussels over the lack of independence of the Greek public sector and warnings against the practice of appointing friends to public office speak volumes about the state of affairs in this country.
The selection of new general secretaries for ministries can be done in two ways: either correctly, or by adhering to the rules on paper but appointing “friends of the minister.” The second way comes out on top all the time.
Why is it that the effort to rid the public sector of party influence is not only not moving ahead, but is being disrupted to the detriment of state structures and the next government? Most likely for the same reason that reforms and digital strategies are not moving ahead.
The dormancy into which the public sector has sunk is not due to indifference or a lack of planning. If all the energy dispensed to find ways to bend the rules and exhaust all possible ways to hire friends was channeled into governance the results would indeed be impressive, according to one official in the know.
The possibilities to limit the public sector expenditure are great. A pilot program that was implemented by three ministries last year, at the prompting of a SYRIZA minister, saved 300 million euros, without the slightest problem. However, the achievement was almost buried and forgotten.
What’s left? Waste, appointments of friends and a situation where no one checks anyone, a bloated administration in terms of staff and wage costs, and essentially no reform. As long as the government is unwilling, to put it politely, to boost the efficiency of public administration and promote meritocracy, the more these problems will manifest in a disastrous way.
Meanwhile, the rest of the world is moving ahead fast. Estonia prides itself on the success of its electronic governance. Greece remains a country where a certificate can move back and forth between different services with mistakes multiplying instead of being corrected, and where the only constant is that mistakes are repeated.