Public services are key to reform

The 39th anniversary of the restoration of democracy on Wednesday allowed us to reflect on how much Greece has changed since 1974 and the years that followed, when we believed that the road ahead would be filled with prosperity and happiness. It allowed us also to consider that when the memoranda with our foreign creditors are in the past, when we don’t have to scramble for new loans, when reforms will have been implemented, we will be on our own. Then we Greeks will have to deal with our state, with our economy and, primarily, with the society that we are shaping these days. When we are on our own, will we make it?

The indications today are ambiguous. The most disturbing ones concern our politicians, who ought to have been the first to show the way toward national consensus and seriousness but cannot overcome their failings. Most political parties continue to invest in populism and division – the twin plagues of Greek history. The continuing opposition to every change means that governments and state mechanisms delay the actions and reforms that would fix our problems, even as passions grow more heated by the day.

The key to the future, then, does not depend on inspired policies from parties, but on the quality of life that citizens will have. Here things are both hopeful and disturbing. At a time when citizens are being deprived of incomes and are suffering, when they have a greater need of services, we see improvements in some sectors and problems in others. The main improvement – thanks to citizens’ sacrifices – is that soon the country will not have to borrow to get through the year. This translates into improved functioning of many services. But, again, it depends on the self-sacrifice of those providing services, not on the system’s efficiency.

The disturbing aspect is that Greeks and other residents in this country are suffering under the weakness of the public administration, from the cuts imposed on public transport services, from the malfunctioning of tax offices and other state services, from the fact that everywhere fewer workers, with less pay, must serve more and more people while at the same time shouldering the burden of higher taxes and social security fees. Queues of people at bus stops, with ever fewer buses, are the clearest illustration of the shortfall in services: Those who cannot afford taxis or their own vehicles rely on services that are being weakened when they should be reinforced. We see this wherever services are reduced, as in the elimination of the municipal police and the ensuing parking problems.

Greece has changed very much for the better over the past 39 years, notwithstanding today’s crisis. The great question now is whether the public sector will be reorganized to the extent that it can serve citizens with the dignity that they deserve. This is the precondition for reforms to succeed.

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