For cutting ribbons or for flood defense?
At some point we need to get serious about our criteria when it comes to voting for mayors and regional governors. Responsibility does not just lie with voters but also with political parties as they get to decide what candidates to endorse. The asymmetry between the threats and the challenges of today’s world and the quality of the political class is abysmal.
Regional governors were given the status of junior prime ministers a few years ago; they now enjoy great powers and control significant budgets. The upgrade of their role was an otherwise rational decision which, however, appeared to underestimate Greek reality. As a result, we now see politicians awkwardly struggling to catch up with developments. Totally unprepared for what’s being thrown at them, they seem preoccupied with public relations stunts.
The same is true for mayors. Many islands are facing huge problems because of overtourism, infrastructure shortcomings and climate change. Nevertheless, island mayors are in most cases still elected on strictly personal or local criteria such as the number of christening ceremonies they attended or their willingness to carry out political favors. The outcome of all this is easily predictable. These mayors offer little more than the uninspired day-to-day management of municipal affairs – and the problems remain.
The times have changed however. Management is now a complex and difficult task. A regional governor or mayor is expected to oversee a project from its offing to its completion, to take advantage of available funding – and all that in the context of an overarching plan.
The central administration cannot be effective in the absence of competent and professional local government. Shared responsibilities in a wide range of areas, from cutting down tree branches to cleaning up rainwater drainage systems, are too intermingled, allowing lazy and incompetent officials to hide behind excuses about bureaucracy.
Then disaster strikes, accompanied by newspaper headlines about the mess of red tape and overlapping responsibilities.
In the end, nothing changes and the ineptitude of very specific individuals gets lost in the overall meaningless turmoil. Surely, much of the fault lies with the central government. Candidates must be nominated on the basis of serious criteria that can be summed up around the question: Is he or she the person for the job?
The rest of us all are also responsible, however. For at some point we need to ask ourselves if we want a mayor and regional officer for the local panigyri or for the rainy days.