ECONOMY

Despite failure to deliver, we still need to be pursuing strategic partnerships

One of the main tenets of political governance is «do not let the new year find you with the old affairs still pending.» It is indeed helpful to make a new beginning without the burden of words that were never translated into deeds. Unfortunately, in our country, this tenet is not applied. As a result, the words that never turned into deeds (or do not do so at the right time in order to obtain the maximum results) not only threaten the credibility of politicians – that is the lesser of all possible evils – but undermine economic development as well. In early December 2001, the then-new economy and finance minister, Nikos Christodoulakis, speaking at a conference organized by the American-Hellenic Chamber of Commerce, had said that the acceleration of privatizations ought to be combined with «the introduction of strategic partnerships for a more effective management and to import know-how.» This remark by Christodoulakis was not merely theoretical; he was referring to the tender, underway then, to sell part of the state’s stake in Hellenic Petroleum, including the management. We all know what happened since. The tender, which began in August 2001 with three of the biggest European oil companies interested, ended up this year as a purely Greek affair, with the merger of privately owned Petrola into Hellenic Petroleum. We did not get «a more effective management» nor did we «import know-how.» Instead, at the helm of the company we got former Socialist MP Giorgos Moraitis, who served as an agriculture minister. The latter did not qualify him to lead an oil refinery but his close association with Development Minister Akis Tsochadzopoulos did. Other state companies in search of a strategic partner but never got one were Public Power Corporation, Hellenic Tourism Properties, Athens water and sewage company EYDAP, and Agricultural Bank. The Public Gas Corporation (DEPA) is also about to fail in this same quest. It is not that Christodoulakis’s vision was flawed: strategic partnerships are still a necessity. However, a few preconditions are necessary. First, the economy and finance minister should be solely responsible for the state portfolio. Having other ministers involved is a recipe for disaster. Second, management of the state portfolio must be transparent and under the control of Parliament. Third, the role of regulatory authorities must be strengthened. Fourth, talks between the governments and ministers should take place without the mediation of the unions. Fifth, change the process of choosing public company heads.