There is no point in getting angry at our politicians every time the country is hit by a crisis. The important thing is to have a group of experienced and level-headed experts that can analyze what went wrong and hammer out a detailed plan to correct the problems and make sure they do not resurface.
The Greek state’s biggest challenge lies in the fact that it is not based on solid procedures and institutions, but relies on good intentions and half-baked solutions. This became evident in the 1996 Imia crisis, the devastating wildfires in 2007 and the deadly inferno that ravaged eastern Attica last summer. If we do not change our attitude, we are doomed to a fresh catastrophe (hopefully without any more deaths or loss of national sovereignty).
An efficient state requires professionalism, strict performance assessment, constant drills and thorough planning. Performance evaluation has been elusive for years. Staff hirings have been hijacked by union and vested interests. There is a culture of covering up the inadequate and the mediocre. Occasionally, the ones who stand out are subjected to persecution. Professionalism and systematic preparation are absent because sections of bodies the armed forces and the security forces operate along the lines of the country’s public utility firms.
The politicians are usually aware of the problem. Former citizens’ protection minister Nikos Toskas had said in Parliament that the fire service is the state’s most dysfunctional body. He was attacked from every direction; nothing changed and the rest is history.
It’s not every day that a minister is willing to break some eggs. If he does, he is bound to meet with opposition from party unionists and public protests. His aides will warn him of unpredictable developments that may upset his plans. Meanwhile, the benefits from any reforms will most probably be reaped by his successor. The few exceptions have been short-lived because a bad or lazy minister can easily undo the positive legacy of his predecessor.
Greece faces many domestic as well as international challenges. It will be unable to live up to these unless it reforms the corrupt and inadequate state apparatus. This will certainly be no easy task. The political DNA of Greece’s mainstream parties is suffused with petty politicking and corrupt practices that undermine the foundations of the state. Political favors buy votes. But they comes at a hefty price when a crisis breaks out and you find yourself relying on inadequate officials, plans and mechanisms.
The least we can do for the memory of the east Attica fire victims is to demand that our politicians get their act together and put their trust not in their political acolytes, but in people who can get the job done.