OPINION

Administration fix

Political efforts to modernize the Greek economy and society are doomed to fall flat without drastic reform of the civil service. The role of the country’s administrative apparatus is crucial: It can either be a catalyst for broader modernization or it can stall reform plans. Unfortunately, so far Greece’s civil service has failed to deliver. Cronyism, corruption, nepotism and overstaffing have taken a heavy toll on the public sector and society at large. Problems that first became evident in the 1960s were intensified during PASOK’s first period in government during the early 1980s. PASOK’s first move in 1982 was to scrap the ministries’ directors general. The New Democracy government has made clear it wants to remedy past ills and set up a public administration that can push through the government’s comprehensive reform program. The bill on civil servants’ grades was a first step. That has been followed up with the new Code for Civil Servants. The new code lays out a new system for staff promotions which is based on objective and genuine criteria, including job interviews for all candidates. The aim is to promote the most qualified staff and prevent incompetent hopefuls from climbing to senior posts. At the same time, the code provides incentives for employees who possess the enthusiasm and expertise; skills that are often neglected these days. The new promotion system aspires to restore meritocracy in the selection process. As long as the administration remains stuck with the so-called «objective criteria» and fails to take individual performance and personal skills into consideration, meritocracy will remain elusive. Inevitably, the lawmakers have sought to establish solid standards and requirements that evaluate the candidates’ past experience and performance. To be sure, the proposed standards must not remain a dead letter, like so many chunks of Greek legislation in the past. In order to ensure meritocracy, the government must not reduce itself to legislative measures alone but also work on their implementation. Reports on staff performance must be accurate rather than seek to flatter the whole undertaking. Interviews should help screen candidates for the requisite qualification and not be influenced by party affiliation. These of course presuppose constant monitoring, impartiality, and meritocratic design of the different services. The new legislation is a significant step, but administrative reform will depend on close monitoring of its actual implementation.