Not doing the work

Greece?s political parties suffer from an incurable disease: Perpetually unable to prepare themselves for the job of governing the country, they get sucked into the political game, especially in the months leading up to elections. It seems that not one of our politicians has the time or the inclination to sit down and prepare seriously, as a private-sector professional would do, for the day after he or she gets the job. Greece has seen this happen over and over again with disastrous results.

George Papandreou rose to power without a concrete plan for the country?s economy, despite the fact that he was fully aware of the state of Greece?s finances. I still remember, for example, the powerful images — in terms of publicity — of Papandreou and acclaimed Spanish architect Josep Acebillo discussing plans for the remodelling of the capital?s Faliro complex: A lot of noise, little substance and even less prep work.

Information has also surfaced through revelations made by some of the ex-premier?s former close aides, who have since disclosed that plans to restructure the country?s ministries and to rename them were jotted down on various pieces of paper, without there being any preparation whatsoever.

Nevertheless, when it comes to staffing the state machine, political parties always seem well-prepared and ready to produce lists of ?their own? people to be appointed to various organizations and boards of directors. What these people lack, however, is an understanding of how the market and the economy work, the know-how of a technocrat.

Sure, technocrats are invited to make proposals and offer their advice on various issues prior to general elections. They in turn submit various non-papers that end up in a drawer or are dismissed on the grounds that they are ?not feasible.? Partisan politics are allowed to become so disruptive that there is no time or desire left for anyone to actually work on preparing for taking office.

This, however, would not be a such a major problem if the country?s public sector and state machine were in order and worked properly. In the old days ministers entering their offices would be met by general secretaries holding well-researched files on all pending issues. But, the political system has succeeded in destroying the management system of the public sector decades ago and now politicians face chaos and employees with a ?this can?t be done? attitude. This is why they rely on advisers, destroying the administrative structures of the civil service even further.

This is no way to run a country.

The phenomenon of governments coming up with ways to cut a billion euros of state spending here and another billion there in one afternoon cannot be repeated.Politicians must learn to trust people who know how to run a project and come up with practical solutions. They have to differentiate between the work of the political party and the work it takes to govern.

There are plenty of serious people out there, executives willing to help in mapping out a national growth strategy or a new tax collection mechanism. Incidentally, one of the most encouraging signs in the new government was the appointment of a deputy finance minister in charge of revenues, who seems to have experience in the workings of the real economy.

Greece?s parties and politicians have become accustomed to pulling all the stops in order to get elected without, however, having to do any of the work that comes with the responsibilities of public office. This cannot go on, especially at a time when every decision taken also involves the agreement of the representatives of the country?s lenders — people who know their facts and figures all too well.

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