Restoring meritocracy

PASOK’s assault on the government’s plans to shake up the civil service is simultaneously absurd and an insult to public intelligence. Since its dismissal, en masse, of general directors and their deputies in 1982, PASOK’s 20-year rule was inextricably bound up in the unraveling of public administration. Permanent staff were replaced with special advisers loyal to the Socialist party, promotions and appointments took place on the basis of party preference, meritocracy was abolished, and corruption thrived. This was PASOK’s legacy in public administration. While the first problems date back to the 1960s, it was the policies of the Socialist party which brought it to its present sorry pass. The Socialists, now in opposition, are slamming the government’s drive to abolish the PASOK-controlled system as evidence that New Democracy is treating the civil service as its own fiefdom. In an attempt to play upon civil servants’ insecurities, the Socialists pretend not to realize that civil servants are not interested in maintaining the system designed by PASOK. In fact, they want sure guarantees that such practices will not be repeated. Given the heavy responsibilities of the opposition for the current condition of the public administration, one cannot help recalling the legal maxim of the Romans: «Nemo allegans suam turpitudinem, audiendus est.» (No one alleging his own turpitude is to be heard as a witness.) The public administration is ailing – a reality that is experienced on a daily basis. No one feels it more than its functionaries, who barely show any desire for making a contribution, progress or transparency. The system is dogged by corruption, nepotism and lack of motivation. Useless posts are overstaffed while critical ones are understaffed. Public administration cannot be reformed with half-measures. It must be rebuilt from scratch. Any transitional measures aiming at doing away with patron-client relations bequeathed by the previous Socialist administrations do not signify a breakdown in the rule of law but a reaction to entanglement and stagnation. The government must be extremely cautious when carrying out its so-called reconstitution of the State. If it wants to keep its promises and serve the public good, the conservative administration must resist the temptation of catering to political friends and of taking care of its «own people» and instead take brave and consistent steps toward the establishment of a meritocratic, productive apparatus which will aim to attract and reward the best qualified individuals – regardless of the party in power.