A new work ethic

The causes of Saturday’s helicopter crash in which 17 people died, including the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria, the conditions under which the accident took place, and the implications of the tragedy all raise a number of very significant questions. Many of them will be the subject of debate for a long time to come. Others will receive an answer, resulting in some individuals being held accountable for their actions (or lack thereof). Other aspects of the accident, however, will forever remain in the dark, plunged in oblivion. Past experience shows that accidents like this may shock the public, but their impact is only ephemeral. But there is something about the recent helicopter accident which will not easily fade from people’s conscience. We are referring to the general state of laxity, disorganization and frivolity, bordering on indifference, that seems to characterize many of those who occupy critical posts on which the security, or even the lives, of many – in some cases, all – fellow-citizens depends. Reading the extracts from the messages between the radar operators, one is stunned by officials’ attitude, an attitude that arouses the most profound unease. The observation does not apply to the military alone. It is a far more widespread characteristic and it essentially constitutes the foremost problem of public administration in Greece – on all levels. It is the colossal issue of the labor force and, most importantly, people’s lack of discipline and dedication to the job that they have chosen to serve or been assigned to perform. Most of us have bitter experience of the negligence and indifference displayed by staff right up to the top of the administrative pyramid. We have to deal with public servants and be subjected to their distinctly unprofessional behavior on an almost daily basis. However, it is frightening to discover that the lax attitude that is to be found among bureaucrats in the public sector also permeates individuals whose performance on duty is a life-and-death question for the rest of us. The latest disaster has brought to the fore the most extreme consequences of laxity and disorganization. It is an acute problem in all of its manifestations and the government must lay emphasis on improving the work ethic of the labor force and on imbuing employees with a sense of duty. Building professionalism is a sine qua non for future success in implementing government policies.