Greece needs different choices, better priorities

Greece needs different choices, better priorities

Before we even get to the subject of shortages of economic resources for socio-economic development, there is another, more serious issue that plagues Greece: It is a problem of priorities and choices, of how we use the limited resources we do have.

This is more than evident when looking at specific areas. Take, for example, the “frugal” management of funds for the National Health System compared to the abundance of money spent on pre-election handouts. At public children’s hospitals there is a waiting list of months or even years for a patient to get an operation. All this, at a time when all of the country’s hospitals are unbearably strained by the influx of patients infected with a range of respiratory viruses, which should have been handled by health centers, but are not. Why? Because the system does not have enough doctors.

The shortage of doctors basically boils down to fiscal policy choices. Of the nearly 10,800 permanent staff positions across the country, around half are filled, while some 2,000 vacancies are covered by doctors who have been hired on an annual basis and are paid via European or other funds that are not accounted for in the budget deficit. Thus, the Finance Ministry has created a “white hole” equivalent to the salaries of 7,000 doctors. In order for the government to achieve this “ambitious” goal, healthcare professionals are obliged to work in medieval conditions. Certain proposals by the Health Ministry that would have improved doctors’ salaries were summarily rejected by the General Accounting Office, claiming that there is no money.

The truth, however, is that what money is available is being spent on other priorities. There is enough money, for example, to spend a few million euros every month to subsidize the electricity bills of Greek households, regardless of income, or the size and number of one’s houses. There also seems to be enough to hand out benefits to the security forces, or to give bonuses to a few thousand civil servants, before their evaluation has even begun. Or to subsidize 8.5 million citizens for their purchases in supermarkets. Once all that is gone, of course there is nothing left for public health or the restructuring of the National Health System.

The 32 billion euros allotted to Greece from the RRF is a lot of money, and should and could accelerate the transformation of the country’s economic model

The same problem of prioritization and choices also concerns issues that are considered of strategic importance, such as the allocation of the European Union’s Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF).

It is not this financial assistance that will save Greece in and of itself. After all, our country had the good fortune of receiving four major European aid packages and, before that, the famous Marshall Plan from the United States, without achieving the productive reconstruction that would have laid the foundations for sustainable economic development.

That is because the country had the misfortune of seeing a large part of those resources channeled into non-productive activities, easy enrichment and private deposits abroad – and all this while factories in rural Greece collapsed.

However, the 32 billion euros allotted to Greece from the RRF is a lot of money, and should and could accelerate the transformation of the country’s economic model to become more modern and productive, with well-paid jobs, breaking away from the traditional model of cheap labor that still dominates today.

Unfortunately, what happened instead, is that projects included in the National Strategic Reference Framework (NSRF, or ESPA in Greek), were simply transferred to the RRF, based simply on how “mature” they were, and not on their economic or social merit. Today, any effort to rationalize the distribution of the RRF’s resources would presuppose a reallocation of funds – for as many projects as time will allow. We would also need different priorities and selection criteria.

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