Why did the Greek government earn plaudits for its management of the coronavirus outbreak? It was because when people switched on their televisions, they received information from officials who (a) were experts in their field, (b) did not pander to the audience and spoke the truth, even if it made them sound unpleasant, and (c) showed a professional attitude about hammering out a plan.
We all felt fear, if not awe, as we faced an invisible enemy. We all needed to hear the uncomfortable truths. On the contrary, career and vote-grabbing politicians create insecurity and intensify uncertainty. For example, I ask myself what’s the point of having a minister or deputy minister appear on television only to inform the public that “this may happen, or that may happen,” and that “these stores may open now, or perhaps they’ll open later.”
Such statements only create confusion and insecurity and undermine the image of a government that likes to see itself as operating on the basis of a concrete plan. We all understand that politicians need to promote themselves. What they fail to understand is that this style of politics is not convincing at all.
To be sure, not all politicians are the same. Some of them showed self-restraint, they took a step back when they realized the magnitude of the problem, and they left the complex and dangerous issues to the experts. This is after all what you need from a politician: common sense combined with an ability to select the right person for the right job, and all that at the right moment.
There is no remedy for the penchant of some politicians for overexposure in the media. What can be remedied, however, is the country’s dysfunctional public administration, by promoting experts in every sector.
The Greek state has excellent professionals that are the envy of any other Western country. From the health system and police to the armed forces, there is a backbone that keeps us upright at difficult times. It has managed to survive despite the systematic hijacking of the state by partisan interests and the establishment of a parallel state structure in the shape of “advisers.” Ministers have an obligation to reach out to these people, who are a small albeit adequate group.
There are stories of the late Constantine Karamanlis inspecting a big public project. Whenever some minister rushed to make an impression, Karamanlis would give him an austere nod and instead turn to the general director who had the best knowledge of the project and the portfolio.