Greece?s management of public property is a crime by omission. It is, in fact, a crime that has been committed by successive governments.
The fate of Olympic properties sums up the situation: Greek taxpayers dug deep into their pockets to finance venues for the 2004 Athens Olympics; but as soon as the lights went out, the Costas Karamanlis government let the buildings fall into ruin.
The controversial comments made last week by the so-called troika representatives have catapulted the issue back onto center stage. The IMF officials? crude language and proconsul-like posturing were a shock to the domestic public. However, it turned out that their statements had already been discussed with the finance minister and their ideas bore the approval of the premier – and this is far more important.
The troika is driven by a familiar dogma – unfolding week by week. After the horizontal cuts on salaries, pensions and spending, the question of public property was next one on the list. The country?s lenders were not suggesting that Greece make use of its public property. Rather, they implied that the country must sell en masse. Of course, given the global economic crisis such a move would amount to a sellout of national property. Sure, foreign officials see this as a good way to collect money. Also, they think that by selling off public assets and land (combined with low labor costs) the country will become more attractive to foreign investors. This is a one-dimensional, and dogmatic policy for instigating economic growth. The troika would ask Greece to sell off its public assets anyway – particularly given the failure of the Memorandum. It will take more aid to save the national economy from defaulting. But before discussing the terms with the government, the latter must prove it has tried everything else first.
Making use of public property usually involves long-term leasing for commercial use. But it would be foolish to rule out the sale of public property on principle. Some of it must remain under state ownership for social or political reasons. But others may well be sold regardless of the crisis. This is one thing, while the indiscriminate sellout dictated by the troika (with the consent of the government) is quite another. The government?s stance toward the troika looks more like an unconditional surrender. Instead of hammering out an unavoidably painful but effective plan to rejuvenate the economy and then negotiate with the troika, PASOK is instead serving the people measures dictated by the troika. Using the specter of bankruptcy, it is forcing the wrong medicine down our throats.