OPINION

Past errors?

In the troubled times after the Greek civil war and despite the conflict’s devastating repercussions, it instantly became clear that the country needed to set up a reliable and effective public administration. The undertaking was naturally undermined by certain political imperfections and lack of freedoms but Greece nevertheless made great strides forward. As a result, public administration – particularly its top echelons – was staffed with worthy officials who endowed it with consistency and continuity. Administrative personnel – general directors, directors and heads of departments – were prestigious, knowledgeable and responsible figures who played a crucial role in the functioning of the State and comprised powerful officials who respected their office and their duties. The legislation passed by Constantine Mitsotakis (then minister of finance) after the election victory of the Center Union was a heavy blow for public administration. The goal of the government was to attack the «state of the Right» by lifting the permanent status of general directors and directors. General directors were now appointed for a fixed term. The measure shook the foundations and the hierarchical organization of public administration: the premise of their continuity and consistency. The problems escalated due to the venality of the governments formed by renegade Center Union MPs (1965) and culminated during the junta years. Public administration had to be rebuilt from scratch after democracy was restored. Despite some mistakes and omissions, a credible administrative apparatus was gradually put together. Unfortunately, the first PASOK government made the same mistake in 1982. On the grounds that senior officials were politically hostile to the new government, the Socialists abolished 97 posts of general directors and 110 of deputy general directors. PASOK’s recipe recreated the 1964 disaster. For whereas a structured administration can be made to carry out the policies of a new government with diligence and consistency – albeit with some delay – doing away with the whole hierarchy brings the entire system to a halt. PASOK tried to compensate by replacing civil servants with outside advisers but this multiplied the problems. Civil servants were disappointed and alienated from new technologies, partisan allegiances were fed. The system fell apart, as the advisers, however efficient, would be transferred together with their ministers, leaving departments headless. Draft legislation tabled by Interior Minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos once again aims to introduce a fixed term for general directors and directors. One hopes that the conservative government will study the lessons of the past 40 years to build a steady and reliable administration above partisan interests.