NEWS

Crisis shows government needs better coordination

Back in June and July, when the new government was in the throes of daily map exercises in managing potential Olympic Games disasters, it could never have imagined the events of last week. Pleased with his team’s performance throughout the Games and after everything turned out for the best, Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis headed for the Thessaloniki International Fair a week ago determined to set the tone for the remainder of his term of office that began last March, following six months of «ad hoc» situations that included not only the Olympics but that of Cyprus and the handling of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s proposal for the island republic. However, at the most critical moment came the tragic crash of the army helicopter off Mt Athos that killed 17 people, including Petros, Patriarch of Alexandria and head of the Greek Orthodox Church in Africa. The media coverage and alleged delay in the authorities’ response to the crash diverted attention away from the fair’s agenda, and turned the entire incident into a mini-crisis for the government, in terms of both politics and public relations. The prime minister employed the tactics, now familiar to his associates, of avoiding any crucial decisions in the heat of the moment. Despite the negative fallout, Karamanlis gained the time to take necessary action to resolve the crisis and bring politics back to center stage. But as with all emergency situations, the handling of the crisis helped his staff draw some useful conclusions, and not only regarding crisis management. In private conversations, government and party officials have observed that the incident shed light on problem areas such as overlapping authorities and delegation of responsibilities that gave the impression that the situation was not under control. Conflicting opinions and frequent verbosity on the part of ministers interviewed on television has highlighted the need for better coordination between them, particularly in dealing with a hostile environment and interlocutors who are less than sympathetic. After the storm It is certain that the government will not be sitting on its hands once the initial storm blows over. Many representations have been made in the spirit the prime minister has called for, both in his campaign speeches and since taking power, in repeated appeals for changes to personnel and in the prevailing mentality within the state mechanism, based on moderation and determination within a well-designed plan drawn up by a tightly knit group of officials. Leading ministers and party officials close to the prime minister have been working together for years while in opposition and are very capable of dealing with difficult situations. Karamanlis himself, who has never been treated kindly by the media, knows better than anyone else how to provide the right solutions at the right time. PASOK’s stance However, the Chinook tragedy and the events that followed have given the government even further cause for concern. PASOK has exploited a tragic event to raise the tone of its opposition as if it had never itself been in government, and as if its own governments were not solely responsible for the dissolution of the armed forces and civil service in general. Of course, the people have already made up their minds about the achievements of (former PASOK defense ministers Akis) Tsochadzopoulos and (Yiannos) Papantoniou, but ND thinks this is not enough. Having delayed an inventory of the situation it took over in nearly all sectors of administration, the government is now losing ground in the business sector. Disruption of services, unbridled waste, a downgrading of officials in favor of advisers, and cases of corruption were discovered right from the early days of the ND government. Anxiety surrounding the organization of the Games as well as a general climate of mediocrity were the reason most of the new ministers did not made these discoveries public. Sins of others So six months after assuming office, the new ministers are having to pay for the sins of their predecessors, while former PASOK ministers are strutting around the television studios. Some officials have been pressing the prime minister’s office to make known the situation the new government found itself in so that responsibility can be apportioned where it is due. In many cases, orders given by ministers, their deputies and general secretaries have not been followed through further down the chain of command, either due to differences of opinion, inaction, or even worse, petty interests. Without a detailed inventory and a public declaration of its contents, there can be no meaningful change within the state apparatus, either regarding personnel or mentality. And without these changes, the new government is certain to face huge difficulties, as Defense Minister Spilios Spiliotopoulos is currently doing, more or less paying for the weaknesses and omissions in what was a pre-existing situation.