The public sector is under constant fire, accused of being problematic, unproductive, and often even corrupt. However, we tend to forget that, to a significant degree, we are the Greek state. Many are employed in the public sector and we elect the officials responsible for staffing it – and supposedly evaluating the performance of that staff and ensuring that everything is above board.
A few days ago, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis spoke of plans to overhaul the Greek state. Indeed, a state that is not under the influence of politics and runs on the principles of meritocracy is a visionary promise made by every government since the restoration of democracy following the 1967-74 dictatorship. Often these proclamations sound promising.
The problem has no ideological color. There are many officials, from all the different parties, who sincerely want to change things, but come up against a wall of organized interests, and favors to a wide range of recipients, from political parties to businesses and unions.
For reforms to be implemented – the resistance is both horizontal and vertical – we need decentralization and for the political leadership to step away from the process.
Greece has the human capital to achieve an efficient state, and capable people at every rank of the public administration.
Reform needs to come from the top, though, to send a powerful message. Appointments to the top jobs in the civil service should not be made according to party interests and personal political relationships. They need to go to the best candidate, regardless of their political party stripe.
From the justice system to the state’s independent authorities, the only questions should be: Does this person have the qualifications and credentials? (and) Will they serve the public interest to the best of their ability? Once these questions are answered satisfactorily, the person who is chosen also needs to be confident of complete support, from both sides of the isle.
This is the only way to ensure that the state does not slip back into clientelist practices, but is instead able to produce results over the long term.
Political interference in the operation of the state is one of the biggest problems Greece’s creditors have stressed since 2010. Their message was simple: “You need people who don’t belong to one camp or another and who will be left to do their jobs unhindered.”
The removal of Haris Theocharis from the leadership of the General Secretariat for Public Revenues in 2014 cast a shadow over the government at the time and undermined the reform effort under way.
In contrast, the recent renewal of Giorgos Pitsilis’ term as governor of the renamed Independent Agency for Public Revenue sent out the right message.
It’s simple: Is the person capable and have they shown results? It doesn’t matter which government appointed them in the first place. Are they effective? If the answer is yes, keeping them on is in everyone’s interest and ultimately in the best interest of the country.