OPINION

Municipal debts

The accumulated debts of municipalities across the country hover in the range of 1 trillion drachmas, thus giving rise to a dual problem: On the one hand, municipalities are faced with the prospect of economic insolvency under the strain of excess obligations. On the other, the government cannot possibly grant the necessary funds without bringing about a dramatic increase in public debt. Both sides are responsible for this unacceptable situation, although the root of the problem is certainly the government’s erroneous policy. The government has broadened the municipalities’ range of responsibilities without granting them extra funds. In fact, it did the exact reverse: In order to fill budgetary black holes, and in blatant violation of the law, the government withheld funds that were marked for local administrations. In other words, the greatest part of municipal debt is a result of the government’s holding back funds reserved for local government organizations. This is only the beginning of another sad story. In the name of the common good, and driven by a short-sighted and irresponsible attitude, many municipalities began projects for which they lacked the necessary funds. As if this were not enough, municipalities are known to be inclined to squander public money, for corruption, and for granting political favors that result in the recruitment of redundant staff. Municipal and local elections last year caused a surge in such irregularities, as some mayors did everything to ensure their re-election while others, assured of their defeat, indulged in an unchecked spending spree. Wasteful or corrupt mayors were found among the ranks of both the ruling and the opposition parties, consolidating a situation that poses a serious threat to the country’s economy. The government and the municipalities must be prevented from putting the burden of their misconduct on the shoulders of citizens by means of new taxes. Furthermore, the government must release the funds earmarked for local government authorities and give them what they are entitled to. Another mammoth task involves taking strict measures to ensure that municipalities cease to be centers of waste and corruption that are blanketed under ostensibly welfare-oriented projects, as officials actually drain taxpayers and the state budget.