Incalculable measures

Incalculable measures

Opposition leader Alexis Tsipras’ reaction to the prime minister’s response to accusations of uncontrolled handouts in Parliament last week was pretty typical of the Greek political system. “Is this what we’re going to be doing today?” he asked when Kyriakos Mitsotakis started talking about the cost of the pre-election promises leftist SYRIZA had made in the last election.

We say “typical,” because actual calculations are rarely, if ever, a part of politics in Greece. This is more than apparent in the draft legislation that is regularly submitted to lawmakers for ratification. Even though the Constitution clearly states that “any bill and law proposal which result in burdening the budget, if submitted by ministers, shall not be introduced for debate unless it is accompanied by a report of the General Accounting Office specifying the amount of the expenditure involved” (Article 75), this is only rarely the case.

Instead, almost every piece of legislation tabled in Parliament comes with a standardized paper from the General Accounting Office that always says more or less the same thing. A case in point is the paper accompanying a draft law submitted to the House on February 10 on rationalizing the sports law, which merely states that the provisions of the law entail a new annual expenditure from the higher salaries being granted to the inspectors of the General Sports Secretariat. There are no numbers, not even estimates. Are we talking about 5,000 euros, 500,000 or 5 million? Who knows?

We know exactly what the state budget’s single source of revenue always is: the Greek taxpayer

The paper goes on to say – as if there was any fear that the relevant minister would have to pay for the new measures out of pocket – that this additional expenditure (whatever that may be) will be supplemented by other sources of revenue in the state budget. It fails, of course, to mention what these other revenue streams that will cover the cost of the raises may be. After all, we know exactly what the state budget’s single source of revenue always is: the Greek taxpayer.

The worst thing is that the government keeps bragging about its significant legislative initiatives and has threatened to speed them up. Hundreds of draft laws costing an undisclosed amount of money have been ratified by lawmakers in these past four years and during previous administrations, with the final bill turning up in taxpayers’ notifications from the Independent Authority for Public Revenue. It seems that one of the basic principles of “good” legislation in Greece is “take the money and run.”

This is, in fact, one of veteran politician Stefanos Manos’ most enduring laments: “You cannot improve what you cannot calculate. I’ve said it again and again, because I believe that this abhorrence of counting is deeply rooted” (Kathimerini, March 11, 2021). His exhortations fall on deaf ears.

The state does not keep a tally of what its spending, the citizens never know where their money is going and the opposition tries to score points by bargaining on incalculable measures. When you’re not keeping count, it’s not just about 50 being not much different to 40 or 30, but about 5,000 being treated like 400 or 30.

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