Make the state work first

More than two years have passed since Greece signed the bailout agreement with its partners and the IMF and we are still talking about more spending cuts and higher taxes. The government is struggling to find ways of cutting another 11.6 billion euros from the budget without triggering a revolt and our partners are waiting for the magic number before releasing the next tranche. We forget that which should have been our priority: We need to make not only the state but the whole country more functional. It is as if we have learned nothing from our failures.

If the troika really does want to contribute to the reconstruction and revival of Greece, then it would not tie our request for a longer period of monetary adjustment solely to the level of spending cuts that the government will propose: It would demand tangible and thorough measures for the improved functioning of crucial sectors that either consume great amounts of funding or do not contribute to a more efficient economy and development. For example, it is less useful to cut more funding from the health sector (thus depriving the most vulnerable citizens even further) than it is to demand the reorganization of hospitals — from procurements to salaries.

Seeing the waste and the disorganization that still hold sway, it is very likely that correct management would bring such gains that neither services for patients nor jobs nor salaries would be threatened. This holds true for other sectors as well. Before we speak of the cost of the civil service and surplus workers, we should consider that the most important problem is that it is inefficient and obstructive. When a machine does not work well, it?s no use using cheaper fuel. We have to fix it first. Unless we don?t want it to work.

One could say that it is too late for such talk, that time is money and that the purse strings are held by our increasingly impatient creditors. But we thought the same thing before May 2010, before we signed the bailout agreement. Then, too, it appeared to be too late for reorganization, that our only option was the immediate cutting of revenues and benefits and the raising of taxes. The result was not only recession, unemployment and political and social upheaval, but also the continuation of incompetence and waste. All of this undermined the very idea of reform.

As long as citizens don?t see better services, their sacrifices are in vain. As long as they don?t see a more efficient state — that collects taxes from all and punishes those who break laws — the sense of injustice will grow. As long as there is injustice and reform measures miss the mark, suspicion and despair will prevail.

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