‘Little gods’ still dominate public services

The profile of Greek public servants has remained unchanged for decades. The image is one of clock watchers who are reluctant to assume responsibility, fixated on a rigid hierarchy, sticklers for regulations and lacking in qualifications and knowledge. They are at the mercy of an absurd work environment and improper procedures (bribery, arbitrary transfers or reclassifications, nepotism, insensitive superiors, abuse of power and legal loopholes). Sometimes they are affable and polite, but usually they are rude and aggressive. Complex and overlapping legislation overwhelms them – uninformed as they usually are – as well as the public. When they are familiar with their job, their confusion as to their exact duties – and consequently their inability to have any control over their work – makes them employ different criteria in making decisions, depending on whom they are dealing with. In some services (chiefly taxation, town-planning, vehicle inspection, forestry and municipal offices), public servants accept bribes or even request them in exchange for settling problems for members of the public who have broken the law or set up scams. Greece has the highest level of corruption among the former 15 European Union members. Behind the low productivity, corruption and vast bureaucracy is the political establishment’s desire for control. Ministers, organization heads and administrators all want complete control over decisions. They want to grant favors, make matters difficult or issue prohibitions at will. Politicians use promises of public service jobs as an inexhaustible method of winning votes. Employees accept that the majority of them are recipients of political favors, that they were not employed on their merit, and that they have chosen their jobs because they offer permanent appointments. The situation is changing but at a painfully slow rate. Employees’ education levels remain scandalously low. The vast majority of public servants are primary and secondary school graduates, particularly in local government, where they form a significant pool of votes. Apart from a minority of long-term employees who are still active, it is more recent employees who give some cause for optimism. The latter, who have graduated from universities or technical colleges and have been appointed after ASEP staff council selection exams, or who are National Public Administration Center graduates, are still a drop in the ocean of 670,000 public servants. As the book «The Anarchy of the Public Servant,» written by Greek civil servants, comments humorously: «The next great revolution will come from the ranks of the public service. It will take a long time, since the greatest battles will take place in absolute silence through invisible personal channels that will radically change the shape of the system, though not overnight. Each day there will be one ‘murder’ in an unending cycle of ‘bloodshed’ and purges.»

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