ECONOMY

Greece’s opaque public sector

The Greek public sector continues to be afflicted by a thick veil of intransparency, in stark contrast to the private sector, where issues of corporate governance seem to have acquired top priority in recent years. Utilities, other public companies, agencies, local government organizations and public administration continue to have zealously guarded secrets: how many people they employ, what criteria of remuneration they use, where they draw their revenues, how they use it, what services they offer to society and how much this costs are questions beyond scrutiny. By contrast, a huge volume of information is available on private companies, especially for those listed on the bourse. This is in line with the strong trend of transparency prevailing throughout Europe which began from market regulation and the operation of the banking system and is now spreading fast, particularly in the functions of the state. Citizens’ rights charters, internal regulations for the operation of public departments, financial data and accountability of public officials are easily available on the Internet. No accountability The Greek state, however, and its servants remain barricaded behind opaque walls. It persists with an antiquated governance model in which no one is accountable to anyone for anything. The final result is the mismanagement of taxpayers’ money, indifference regarding the quality of services to the citizen, cushy jobs for ruling party people, the absence of any effort for improvement and, quite often, the embezzlement of public money. In this day and age, we can learn just about anything about Coca-Cola HBC, Citibank and HSBC, but it is almost impossible to obtain any data on how much money, for instance, a large municipality spends on garbage collection, how much it spent three years ago and how much more efficient the service has become since. It is infinitely easier to obtain some basic financial data on a small bank in Egypt or a company in the United Arab Emirates than to find rudimentary financial data about a Greek public hospital regarding its operating structure. Academics, company executives and economists contacted by Kathimerini argue there is a need for radical changes. They note it is of vital importance for the country to introduce the principles of corporate governance in public utilities and public administration at large. They take the view that this can be done without changing the established mode in which public administration operates. But they believe that it is necessary to have a minimum framework of operating principles and transparency, including annual reports and the auditing of financial data, the publication of financial statements, improvement of services through target setting, simplification and rationalization of procedures for supplies procurement and asset management, accountability of officials and accessibility to information by citizens through the Internet.