Old habits that die hard

Conventional wisdom has it that old habits die hard, and there is no better proof of this than the behavior of this country’s political class.

Recent appointments to high positions within the state sector suggest that the political parties that comprise the three-party coalition government have failed to leave their bad old habits, practices and mentalities behind.

A few first worrying signs emerged in the early months following the formation of the coalition after a second general election in June last year.

These concerns were confirmed when the conservative-led government announced the names of those that would be appointed to the helm of state organizations.

According to reliable sources, the search for managers is still on, but it is firmly kept within a commonly agreed framework.

According to the same sources, there is an agreement that positions in the public sector will be filled at a ratio of 4:2:1 between New Democracy, PASOK and Democratic Left.

This means that once more, and notwithstanding the mammoth problems and dysfunctionalities that plague Greece’s public administration (and which are to a large extent responsible for the problems that brought the country to the verge of default to start with), the coalition partners are insisting on staffing the state structure in accordance with partisan criteria – instead of meritocratic ones.

Behind the noisy accusations coming from the direction of the Greek opposition parties, there is little doubt that they too would appoint their own boys if only they had the chance.

That said, there is one more dimension here that helps perpetuate the harmful habit. Besides being populist, Greece’s ruling officials have also been extremely prone to double standards.

So, while the cash kept coming in to satisfy the demands of unionists and public utilities, successive Socialist and conservative administrations went to the other extreme with regard to the payment of managers, experts and persons entrusted by the state to manage hundreds of millions of euros and thousands of personnel.

The low wages, considering the work and risk that these people would have to undertake – combined with the risk of endless lawsuits during and/or after their tenure – constitute counterincentives that put off talented and skilled professionals from the private sector.

In fact, they contribute to the perpetuation of partisan rule and the conquering and degeneration of the public sector.