Institutions and the incompetent


In the last few decades, the Greek political system has been set on playing games with local institutions. It chose to ignore the importance of ability and reputation and selected its own people for pivotal positions. People with zero academic contribution became rectors, for instance, with the assistance of party mechanisms. Even in the armed forces, there were those who rose to the top because they crowded the party offices.

In the end, however, institutions take their revenge. When you place the incompetent in key positions, you end up paying a hefty price for it. Unfortunately, the country ends up paying as well.

I once experienced an incident which I frequently recall, and which angers me every time. While conducting research on the Imia crisis (when Greece and Turkey came close to war over an uninhabited outcrop in the Aegean in 1996), I discovered the role played by a high-ranking officer, who on that January night was crushed under the weight of responsibility. I found him and paid him a visit. I came face to face with this figure of incompetence. When I pressured him to find out what had happened, he started crying and said to me: “I know I should never have become…, the party made me. I lost it that night, what else can I say?” So, during the course of one night, Greece paid a high price for a decision by certain politicians to appoint their own man, as opposed to the best man for such a critical job.

There are other ways for institutions to take revenge, such as when someone decides to investigate the criteria behind appointments in sensitive areas. Twenty, 30 years later, you come across diplomats, judges, civil servants at the top of the ladder who do not fulfill the basic requirements. Fully aware of their inefficiencies, however, they hide behind partisan and union lines and move on.

Fortunately, there are many exceptions to this. The Greek state is operating and still standing thanks to these exceptions. Thanks to worthy judges, officers, doctors and professors who are finding it hard to pay off their housing loans, but carry on with their duties every day nonetheless. Sometimes, urged on by a sense of self-protection, politicians realize that the best people are required every now and then for the country to stand on its feet.

Nevertheless, it’s time that those in government realized that the games played with institutions and the incompetent might offer the illusion of being in total control, but they will still end up paying a price for it. That is because, beyond all the damage done to the country, the incompetent also have a sense of survival, which leads them wherever the wind is blowing.