OPINION

On IKA fraud, education reforms, small parties and austerity measures

Education reforms and Giorgos Babiniotis

I agree completely with your article and cannot understand why an academic has been chosen for this position. When New Democracy was in power Ms Giannakou proposed changes to the education system which were extremely sensible, especially the termination of ‘professional’ students who are still attending in their 30’s. Although this program was welcomed by ND supporters, Mr Karamalis offered her no support and nothing was achieved.

Now, after long-term discussions with various members of the education body, and visits abroad by Ms Diamantapoulou to discuss latest teaching methods, she has been removed from office. Her program was similar. An academic cannot change our education system; we again need technocrats with modern ideas, and at once.

Our universities in world ratings are a scandal and we citizens are left wondering why our taxes have to pay for so many institutions that are at the bottom of world ratings. We have students in high schools that are changing their second foreign language yearly as staff are not available. Apart from this, politics is still the main subject in our schools and universities. Children are encouraged by staff to hold sit-ins to support wage increases and far-left political views.

This man is not suitable for the position as he is part and parcel of this defunct system. Certain universities should be closed, and high schools and pre-university schools must be amalgamated as they are far too small and therefore cannot afford to purchase the necessary technical equipment especially for the sciences. Children should receive a free education without parents having to pay for private tutors and evening classes, simply for their children to achieve pass grades.

Ann Baker

Pension fraud

It’s was good to read how many dead, non-existent people IKA has been paying pensions to. I am alive, real and exist. IKA contributions were deducted from my salary for every one of the years I worked in Greece. I applied for my IKA pension last June. I am told they have all the paperwork and everything is in order but they have no idea when they will start paying me. I seem to recall that when Karamanlis was elected he promised to bring down the time it took to process a Greek pension from three years to three months. Obviously yet another of the government promises that never materialised. How many more will there be?

Warwick Gibbons

Chania

380 million euros of «German booty»

A few days ago, Peter Kyriakeas-Kirk claimed here that ?to date, Germany has earned over 380 million euros from the loans she has made to Greece so far in the present crisis.? He calls this «German booty.»

This statement is a case of lying by saying only half of the truth.

German taxpayers currently face a loss of 14 billion euros, bond held mostly by Hypo Real Estate, West LB and KfW, that have to be written off by 75 percent.

There is no German booty. To argue that Germany has profited from the entire financial mess in Greece isn’t even half of the truth.

Karsten Paul

Nuremberg

A plea for the right kind of austerity

It is shocking to see how the expressions ?overspending? and ?austerity? are thrown around without the least effort of defining/explaining what they mean (or should mean). Overspending is what got Greece into trouble and austerity is causing the pains now. But overspending of what and austerity for what?

When a family gets into financial trouble, they need to reduce their expenses wherever they can and start living ?within their means.? If they continue to spend more than they earn, they need to find someone to lend them money. If no one lends them money, they have no choice but to stop spending.

The government (state) does not function like a family. Where the family has to save in times of financial trouble, the government needs to spend in order not to damage its revenue base. It really isn’t government overspending which got Greece into trouble because Greece’s government spending, as a percentage of GDP, is by far not at the top of the eurozone (Greece: 50%; France: 56%). What got the Greek government into trouble is that the revenue base was far too low for that kind of spending. Also, the public sector in general absorbed a huge portion of national resources without generating an adequate level of value. While some austerity was undoubtedly necessary, the real austerity should have been applied elsewhere.

The country functions exactly like a family. When a country spends more abroad (for imports, services, interest) than it earns abroad (through exports, tourism, etc.), it is overspending. The gap is closed by funding from abroad. When that funding no longer flows freely, the country must do the same thing as a family: radically curtail spending abroad; radically increase revenues from abroad; or a combination of both.

When a family has a monthly income of 1,000 EUR and spends 1,400 EUR every month, it’s obvious what will happen once the bank stops making loans. From 2001-10, Greece spent 1,400 EUR abroad for every 1,000 EUR which she earned abroad. Until about 2008-09, foreign banks were happy to provide the funding for that. Since then, the funding had to be provided through rescue and/or ECB loans.

Since the peak overspending in 2008 (1,530 EUR spending for every 1,.000 EUR earned abroad!), several things have improved: exports increased quite impressively and the growth in imports could be slowed.

Nevertheless: as late as 2011, the third full year of the crisis, Greece still spent 1,372 EUR abroad for every 1,000 EUR earned abroad (that is overspending to the tune of 37%!).

Now, picture that those were the figures of a family and that you were that family’s banker. Imagine what you might say to that family? How would you communicate your feelings that, over two years ago, you had told them to stop overspending and you had repeated your warnings every quarter, only to now see that they were happily overspending as though nothing had happened?

It is inconceivable to me why Greece as a country would have done nothing to reduce the enormous level over overspending abroad. The first step would have had to be a ?buy-Greek drive?. The second step would have had to be to promote domestic production of those products which should no longer be imported (thereby providing a stimulus for economic activity). And, probably, one couldn’t have avoided implementing some form of special taxes on selective imports to make them more expensive.

In short, the much-needed austerity would have had to be applied to spending abroad! Instead, Greece continued to spend money abroad as though nothing had happened. The most ridiculous point is that Greece, a country which should drastically reduce spending abroad and which should import only those products which can definitely not be produced domestically, well, that such a country whose most important sector is still agriculture would import even agricultural products, and not in a small way.

How long will it take until people come to their senses? That Greece as a country simply won’t be able to spend other people’s money forever?

From 2001-11, in only 10 years, Greece has received funding from foreign lenders to the tune of roughly 400 BN EUR! There was additional funding from EU grants and foreign investments. There is simply no way that another 400 BN EUR of funding will come in the next 10 years for the purposes of overspending and capital flight! (there are no facts to support this argument; just common sense).

Why is it not obvious that Greece has to apply the greatest austerity imaginable to spending abroad? Even if it means controlling imports. And if import substitution is handled well, it would significantly add to domestic economic activity!

Klaus Kastner

Austria

Re: The silent revolution of self-aware Athenians

I too have been amazed at the numbers turning out for these events. I am sure their popularity does have something to do with a feeling of solidarity and a need to regain pride in the capital. Dimitris Rigopoulos hits the nail right on the head when he writes that movements like this are slowly but surely altering the personality of Athens. What a wonderful way to effect change!

Corinne Chandler

Small parties?

The latest opinion poll shows the various ‘left’ parties with about 48% in total — but with no party larger than 12%. This is illogical because these parties are in general opposed to the bailout (and therefore by extension opposed to EU and euro membership), whereas other polls continue to show about 70% wanting to keep the euro and EU membership. This fragmentation of the left will mean that they would need to join coalitions to form a government — yet it is the egos of the various politicians which makes it impossible for them even to join one of the existing left parties, let alone coalitions. They must have their own personal party — and accompanying benefits, including the all-important five minutes of fame. ‘Social Compact’ has the benefit that no-one really knows what a ‘compact’ is, as compared to a ‘contract’ — why did these people need to found their own party, rather than join one of the others? Good to read that this party failed to register in the poll, despite lots of glitz and doing all the PR in the accepted way. So perhaps there is hope that they will disappear again soon.

It’s almost the same story on the right. What are the differences between LAOS and Chryssi Avgi?

To be effective, mergers are necessary on both left and right before the elections. But this is to ignore the real point — which is that these individuals just want to be in Parliament for their nuisance value, rather than to make a sincere contribution even at this difficult time. None of ‘the 300’ are actually left or right — they are just individuals, swapping their allegiances frequently at whim. The only surprise to me is that there are not 300 parties.

The Greeks have moved to the extremes, which is all that is offered to them — no sensible centre parties have emerged with any support — although this is effectively what Greece has right now, with the ND/PASOK alliance (which both sides deny vigorously!). Will this continue after the election, or will there be months of bickering about the formation of a government? The latter is just what Greece does not need — with the present coalition trying to enact reforms in a very ‘political’ context.

Robert Skailes

Nero, Rome … and Greeks

‘Nero fiddled while Rome burned.’

We all think Nero was a Latin, a Roman. But he wasn’t you know, he was a Greek.

And he fiddled and he danced and he sang and he sang about how the flames were so beautiful as they danced all around him.

He was engaged in a Dionysian orgy of death and rebirth. He fiddled and sang funeral dirges as Roman citizens were consumed by the flames.

His spirit definitely permeates Greece today.

I think maybe Greeks have been waiting 200 years for their ‘Nero moment’. 200 years of the most excruciating birth process in history.

Now they have to learn to come off the respirator and breathe by themselves. Learn to crawl, then stand, then walk etc.

And all the while the vision of Nero will be all around them reminding them of where they will go if they don’t find the collective will to act together.

11 million Greeks (or whatever is left after mass migration) trying to work together. I think Nero had better settle in for a long stay… with his fiddle.

Philip Andrews

Solving our problems I don’t think that it’s possible for Greece to solve it’s own problems unless we teach Modern History in our schools, in an unbiased manner. The whole of Europe has had this on their school curriculum for years, and yet Greece over 60 years after the last civil war ended doesn’t have the momentum to face the issue. Rather than allow open discussions and historical facts they have swept this disastrous period under the Greek carpet and allowed it to fester. This probably explains why after Russia annexed democratic European countries, that spent years attempting to escape the communist system, Greece is still fostering these outdated ideas. The fact that Russia during that period promised their support and then turned their backs, has never been discussed. The daily news from both Russia and China of self-made billionaires and abject poverty together with deep corruption, proving that neither are following the true communist doctoring, is ignored by all our left wing parties.

The chaos in Greece which prevailed before the junta, again has never been discussed. I first visited Greece before the junta and saw for myself the standard of living, again the changes were quite obvious, when I visited twice during their dictatorship. I spoke privately with young Greeks, both in Corfu and Attica, many of whom, although they weren’t happy with a military dictatorship still were positive with the changes and their prospects for the future. My husband was actually in the Polytechnic during the student riots, and he has admitted openly that if Papadopoulos had called elections in 1970, he would have been elected as Prime Minister of Greece. This wasn’t simply due to the finance being supplied to this regime but the simple fact that Greeks, instead of demonstrating and corrupting the system, knew the consequences and worked.

Now we are seeing for the first time the modernization of the Greek system and the disgusting legacy of two parties which have fermented the idea that, now we are in power it’s the turn of our supporters to cheat the system and make money. We are now forced to have elections, which the more reliable and sensible Greeks consider a mistake, as changes should be implemented and elections held in 2013, simply because both major parties have lost the control. Now however, we are left with the choice of voting for 3 left-wing parties which with their unions and violent demonstrations have recently caused major problems. Apart from this they cannot agree between themselves. Now they are joined by one pseudo-left-wing party from PASOK that is simply there for its own ends.

Against them we have two right-wing parties; one condones racism and the Orthodox church which doesn’t pay it’s own staff or taxes, another which has decided to leave the coalition due to it’s loss of voters, proving once again how egotistical our politicians are. Now we have a new party which doesn’t support the terms we have endorsed for funding, so we are left wondering how we will survive.

We have Mr. Venizelos, who after so many years in PASOK, has suddenly decided that the game is up, and Mr. Samaras, who must be exhausted by jumping back and forth over the EU fence. We the middle of the road voters are the ones mostly from the upper-working classes and small businesses, obeying the law and paying our taxes, even if we don’t agree with them all, simply for the good of the country and our fellow men. The latest findings of corruption in both our pension schemes and disability funds have left us disgusted. We cannot wait for the report regarding the number and payments to public servants as we are quite sure that this will prove to be even worse. Mr. Papademos, together with the EU and IMF was able to make changes, with these elections whether or not ND together with PASOK can form a coalition to serve the people is still not guaranteed.

Even more to the point is, without Mr. Papademos there in the control position, we know we will have serious problems from both the left and right wings. The Greeks will never be able to move into the future if they are not taught the mistakes of the past.

Ann Baker