ECONOMY

State difficult to reform

OTE Chairman and CEO Panagis Vourloumis yesterday compared public companies to a cruise ship where union leaders occupy the luxury cabins. Speaking at a conference on «Reinventing Government,» the title of a book by US author David Osborne, Vourloumis used the cruise-ship analogy as an indictment of the way Greek public enterprises operate. «The first-class seats are occupied by trade union leaders. These officials are paid well to travel comfortably, have special privileges and have usually reserved a cabin for their children. If they are lucky, this ship could be their passport to the luxury liner of Parliament.» «In economy class, things are quite different. The space can be expanded to take in anyone. The dream of every Greek is to be recruited onto the staff of a public organization. The position offers a respectable and regular wage, benefits, job security and an early pension.» «Apart from the full-time crew, there are also auxiliary and contract staff, most of whom jumped aboard in the countdown to a general election. Finally, there are the non-ticketed passengers, who we can’t do much about. But what about those who have paid for a ticket? Squeezed into the hold, they are moved back and forth to suit the needs of the day.» Osborne, a former adviser to the Clinton administration, said that privatizations were not a cure-all and that they must be complemented by a legal framework that would avoid monopolies, oligopolies and collusions (cartels). The goal, according to Osborne, is a better state, not less or more of it. Achieving this requires changing the public sector culture, a long-term process which must encompass the entire public sector. Partial reform, he said, will divide public sector employees into warring camps. In his own speech (via videotape, since he is on a visit to London), Economy and Finance Minister Giorgos Alogoskoufis criticized the judiciary over the recent affair of wage rises awarded by a special court. «It is inconceivable for any branch of government to set its own wage levels without striving for a broader consensus on these matters,» he said. He added that the civil servants’ pay scale, which has become too complicated with the addition of various bonuses at each ministry, must be reformed in the next few years, most likely after national elections. Alogoskoufis said the government has to rely on the private sector to spur growth «because the fiscal leeway for spending was too limited.» Panayiotis Papastavrou, chairman of the Hellenic Foreign Trade Board (HEPO), said that there was no reason why public enterprises cannot be run like private ones, since the goal is the same: to maximize results. Nancy Papalexandri, vice rector of the Athens University of Economics and Business (AUEB), said that civil servants and, to a lesser extent, public company employees are obliged to operate a system with antiquated operating structures, bureaucracy, excessive centralization and an overcomplicated legal framework.