In an ideal state – to paraphrase John Adams – authority rests with laws, not people, and institutions stand above the people who represent them. In its first 11 years, the Public Administration Inspectorate was intrinsically linked with the man who held the post of general inspector at the institution.
Leandros Rakintzis, a former Supreme Court judge, was appointed in September 2004. In confirmation of the madness that reigns in his area of jurisdiction, he was informed just on Monday of the end of his five-year tenure – with six years’ delay. A few weeks ago, the third section of the Council of State, the country’s highest administrative court, filed a motion with the plenary requesting that it throw out any appeals on disciplinary cases filed by Rakintzis on the grounds that his tenure had expired.
Rakintzis stepped into the job in the age of bliss, when all were aware of the rampant corruption and mismanagement in the public sector but, in a time of easy credit and widely shared prosperity, few were enraged. With his communication skills, methodical approach to the work at hand and a sense of humor, he gave substance to the newly established institution.
A lot of water has passed under the bridge since the first inquiries he ordered in 2004: bankruptcy, three memorandums and endless negotiations, plans and actions to modernize the civil service.
Does Rakintzis share the prevalent opinion that despite all that, little has changed for the better?
“A lot has improved in the public administration in the past few years,” he tells Kathimerini, mentioning the stricter disciplinary rules for civil servants and oversight mechanisms. He concedes, however, that this progress has not been evident in the health sector, which has separate disciplinary processes from the rest of the public sector that remain highly dysfunctional.
During his 11 years in office, he says, “there were ministers who’d listen, but each would implement his own policy.” There were also several attempts to undercut his authority. In 2012, for example, the general inspector was stripped of the right to appeal disciplinary council decisions by the Administrative Reform Ministry, then under Dimitris Reppas. Antonis Manitakis reinstated that right the following year, but prompted the ire of Rakintzis with his plan – never implemented – to merge the Public Administration Inspectorate with the Inspectors-Controllers Body for Public Administration. Rakintzis had suggested at the time that it was an attempt to abolish the institution he led.
There are two key issues to the survival of the public administration, according to the outgoing inspector: meritocracy superceding political criteria (“there are a lot of capable people; they just need to be made use of,” he says) and electronic governance.
As for himself, he says that he’s leaving his office with his “head held high” and “with widespread recognition by the people of my work.” He attributes these sentiments to the fact that he never “allowed any political interventions and never asked anyone for any favors.”
Rakintzis is being replaced by former appeals judge Mari Papaspyrou. Experienced but without any high-profile accomplishments, Papaspyrou is taking the reins at a time when independent institutions are facing a full-on assault by a government seeking to impose its authority and seeing enemies everywhere. She will have a battle on her hands to ensure that the Inspectorate doesn’t end up as yet another sad footnote in the efforts to overhaul the public administration. And in this battle for the institution to stand above the people who represent it, the people matter.