OPINION

Shaking up the Greek civil service

Greece’s head of government has taken on a big gamble. Braving the political cost, Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis decided to break with longstanding tradition whereby governments treated the Thessaloniki International Fair as a platform from which to announce handouts and social benefits drawing on funds that did not really exist in the first place; «borrowed» is the word. Opposition parties and a section of the media immediately rushed to slam Karamanlis’s stand as opposing the interests of the lower-income groups. And indeed, disillusionment is growing among the less well off in society. Karamanlis has followed the path of truth. And rightly so. It’s high time that the pathetic farce of September handouts from the TIF podium came to an end. A country that is plagued by huge deficits and mammoth debt cannot afford to promise welfare policies of the kind advertised by the purported architects of a «powerful Greece.» Being sincere on the big problems besetting the country’s economy, and avoiding attempts to sweep them under the carpet, has become a prime test of political credibility. These days, only a politician attempting to bamboozle the public would dare announce popular measures. The New Democracy leader has a clear intention to fix the country’s fiscal situation and reform the country’s broader public sector. The government must urgently promote reforms as the public is finding the burden too heavy to shoulder. But the proposed reforms will not yield fruit and stronger growth will not come unless the government moves swiftly to shake up the inflexible and sluggish civil service. It’s highly unlikely that the public administration can, in its current shape, carry out the government’s policies. The success of conservative reforms depends on the degree of effectiveness of the country’s civil servants. The government must make sure that its policies are implemented in the most efficient way. That is necessary if the country wants to escape the trap of deep debts and low productivity. It’s also necessary if Karamanlis wants to look people stuck in the lower-income strata – the section most strained by the government’s reforms – straight in the eye.