OPINION

Handouts, at a cost

Just a month after its supposed «renewal,» the government is showing that it will not be budging an inch from its well-beaten path. On the question of corruption, the demand to monitor parliamentary deputies’ stock market transactions is nothing but a pretext for avoiding an investigation into truly sinister dealings. On the even bigger issue of economic efficiency, not only is the government not making any great changes, but it is trotting out the tried-and-tested method of handouts, the usual bait in the political system of patronage. The package of handouts the prime minister will be announcing at the Thessaloniki Trade Fair, which will cost about 1.3 billion euros and be oriented toward increasing farmers’ pensions and providing jobs and permanent tenure in various categories, is an attempt to achieve two targets. On the one hand, the government wants to tempt categories of disaffected voters to return to the fold, while at the same time trying to restrict the opposition’s field of action. Naturally, the latter does not want to be unpopular with voters, and it cannot deny the right of weaker sections of the population to expect handouts. Any difficulty the opposition might have in condemning the handouts does not, of course, mean that they are justified. While everyone applauds support for the disadvantaged, in order to constitute a real solution and not result in more inflation and unemployment, it should be part of an integrated revenue and expenditure policy. Yet this is not what is happening. Revenue is low, expenditure has skyrocketed and no one knows how this 1.3 billion is to be found without putting a heavy burden on the economy. Consistent and cautious government management would have incorporated any handouts into the program from the outset, including the necessary funds for it. The amount required is not much more than the extra 1 billion euros which the «mathematical model» of assigning public works cost the taxpayer. What is now being presented as a major social program could have been funded simply by wiping out corruption in a major sector of state contracts. Unfortunately, this amount ended up in the bank accounts of certain major contractors. These new handouts can only be made at the expense of the public purse, which will soon be frittered away to nothing.