Rethinking TAIPED

Stelios Stavridis, who was recently dismissed as chairman of Greece’s privatization fund (TAIPED), was true to his nature and habits. Having served for 30 years as senior executive at some of Greece’s biggest companies, he is used to being around and working for the country’s leading businessmen. This relationship naturally breeds a certain degree of familiarity, a lifestyle almost.

Stavridis was reported to have flown on the private plane of a member of the consortium involved in the purchase of gaming firm OPAP. To be sure, it would be stupid for the sacked TAIPED chief to have accepted the offer as a form of payback for potential favoritism to the businessman in question. The interpretation does not hold water.

However, there is a broader issue. TAIPED has an ugly task at hand: it was designed to sell the most valuable of state assets into private hands, and it has to do so at very low prices compared to what it could have demanded yesteryear. Some degree of social protest is to be expected. The coalition government also will have to suffer some political damage. But this is the path chosen by PASOK and New Democracy, which have ruled this country for the most part of the post-dictatorship era.

It was obviously not possible to appoint a state functionary to take charge of TAIPED. After all, the state apparatus has been all but dismantled. Nor can one expect a civil servant to conduct high-level bargaining with big business interests. Appointing private sector managers to the helm of Greece’s privatization agency was the right decision, regardless of whether all three of them were removed for one reason or another in just a few months.

But Greece is a small country. Even smaller is the number of entrepreneurs who possess the economic weight to take over – either on their own or as partners of foreign investors – the state companies on TAIPED’s list. Meanwhile, Greek managers have either worked for the entrepreneurs who have expressed interest in state companies or, perhaps, they hope to work for them at some point in the future as they move from one company to the other.

The combination of Greek politicians, Greek businesspeople and Greek managers in the TAIPED leadership is inevitably a major turnoff for the average citizen. Also, it discourages foreign interest in the privatization process.

Perhaps it would make sense to put a foreign manager, someone who would be alien to the habits of Greece’s political and economic players, in charge of the fund. The price tags are small anyway.