NEWS

Red tape and palm greasing are daily realities in citizens’ transactions with the State

Under-the-table payments, services peddled on the side, endless queues reminiscent of the Third World, appalling working conditions and departments that cannot function even on the most basic level typify interactions between the state administration and ordinary citizens. Such were the findings of the Instant Intervention Team, which declared itself often «surprised» during the course of recording the shortcomings of state administrative bodies. The team, which was set up by the Interior Ministry, discovered that bureaucracy encouraged the development of intercessionary procedures, more commonly known as bribery. To obtain a driving license, for instance, costs 600,000, while for appointments at Social Security Foundation (IKA) clinics, nearby cafes secure the coveted place in line numbers for pensioners as early as 5 a.m. «I’ve been waiting 12 days to see a doctor» was the quick riposte to questions by researchers on whether people waiting in line were satisfied with the workings of the system. Hospital patients are subjected to disorganized outpatient departments, incorrect diagnoses and unconscionable delays in medical tests and operations. The situation has been spelled out in no fewer than three successive annual reports by the Ombudsman, while the State Inspectorate recorded the following state of affairs: Hundreds of people crowd into outpatients departments on a daily basis while they are frequently forced to wait a month and a half before being examined in regular outpatients surgeries. At the same time, hospitals are quite unable to cope with contemporary needs while shortages of medical and nursing staff have reached 30 percent. Inexcusable delays afflict pension payments of all kinds. In many cases, pensioners wait for up to three years to receive their pension, while in one case, it took 10 years for an elderly invalid woman to receive her first payment. The causes of these delays were attributed to the increase in pension cases, contributions that had been made to more than one insurance fund and the lack of personnel. Other running sores are illegal building permits, encroachments on forestland and planning departments being remiss in intervening immediately. The Ombudsman has received 2,500 reports that suggest not only indifference but complicity on the part of planning departments in the issuing of illicit building permits. The Ministry of Planning and Public Works maintains an unacceptably chaotic state of affairs which allows grasping contractors to feather their nests by destroying urban areas and the environment. According to the Ombudsman, the code of silence makes the work of the inspectors more difficult, while the administration’s inability to impose the existing legislation (e.g. demolition of illegal buildings), pleading lack of means and funding, in effect incites people to engage in illegal building. Serious irregularities have been found by the State Inspectorate in the procedures used for assigning works. In addition, public money is wasted through ordering materials and then canceling the order after most of the sum has been paid. One typical example is when the inspectors disputed the need for the supply of certain materials and machinery to the Transport and Communications Ministry and observed serious inconsistencies between projected and final prices for items like lubricating oils. What people say A survey by the Ministry of the Interior found that the overwhelming majority of people rated state services and civil servants low, with 60 percent of the public declaring themselves dissatisfied or quite dissatisfied, and only 37 percent saying they were satisfied with the service they had received at state departments. Tax offices drew the ire of 45 percent, while 27.5 percent regarded their transactions with the Social Security Foundation and other insurance funds as a painful affair. Public utilities received better marks. What irked people most was the indifference and the behavior of employees. Queuing came second, with 44.1 percent, together with red tape. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s last report on Greece, Paragraph 246, reads thus: «Greece suffers from lack of skills and incentives to efficiency, institutional paralysis, inadequate coordination, a legalistic mentality and a spirit of passivity and inertia, overcentralization, lack of discipline and an aversion to competitive markets. On the other hand, clientist relationships and a unionist mentality permeate and paralyze everything.» «There is growing convergence between the many diagnoses and interpretations,» said Professor Antonis Makrydimitris of the University of Athens. «Party favoritism, corruption, the absence of a meritocracy, legalistic attitudes and centralization are all to blame for the State’s inability to function properly. The State must do less and do it better. To be specific, the State needs to shed superfluous regulations (we have over 35,000 laws and decrees) on social and economic life, as well as make drastic cuts in superfluous organizations and services that pillage the state coffers. Personnel must be transferred to the provinces. The excessive number of 19 ministries and about 43 ministers and deputy ministers, as well as an equal number of general secretaries, results in authority and responsibility being diffused. «Functions need to be surrendered to other parts of the country so that 45 percent of industrial activity, 50 percent of services, 55 percent of cars, 40 percent of the population and 46 percent of state employees are no longer concentrated in Athens. «The four permanent tasks of the country’s administration are reducing state interference, tackling inefficiency, decentralization and instituting a meritocracy.»