Shaping up the public administration


As any minister, current or past, will be the first to admit, Greece does not have a functional state apparatus. Foreign technocrats working on the Greek bailout program were shocked by the state of the country’s state sector, which is a far cry from European standards.

That has not always been the case. Until the military coup of 1967, the Greek state apparatus was known to be run by respected general directors, career officials with excellent knowledge of their portfolios. Whenever the late Constantine Karamanlis had a query about some major project, he would turn to these people, and not his ministers. Many of them had been appointed through an examination system introduced by Eleftherios Venizelos. Their job was safe regardless of government changeovers. Sure, they did not have a left-wing background given the Cold War atmosphere of the time, but they included a considerable number of centrists.

The first blow to the public sector was inflicted by a 1964 rule which said that civil servants had to retire after 35 years of service, leading to the departure of many experienced and valuable officials. The junta caused further damage after appointing former generals and gauleiters at key posts. Populist PASOK destroyed what was left of the system.

General directors became a thing of the past when PASOK introduced the flawed system of political advisors. Key ministry posts were occupied by people without the necessary skills or qualifications. The power of unions grew unchecked, staff assessment was reduced to a sham and disciplinary councils were neutralized.

This is more or less how we reached 2017. You can find a small number of skilled and dedicated staff at the top echelons of any ministry. These people are helping keep the Greek state on its feet. Beyond that, it’s extremely hard to expect any meaningful contribution from any ministry. Ministers are seen as transit visitors. You can almost hear ministry staff think: “Where will you be in a couple of years? Why should we follow your orders?”

The problem is that young people appointed through the ASEP process of civil personnel selection are inevitably mired in stagnation.

The current administration won’t do a single thing to improve things. It does not want to disaffect its political clientele. But someone has to do it, because this country will go nowhere without some basic level of public administration. So, before our creditors decide that they must treat Greece as an underdeveloped country needing technical aid to shape up its public administration, the country’s parties should get together to do this alone.

Most outrageously, it is an open secret. Anyone with even a brief tenure at a ministry post will have some horrible experience to share and very few can be proud of some minor contribution, a small token to their successor.