When PASOK, under the late Andreas Papandreou, first came into power, Papandreou’s most important initiative in public administration was to remove general directors and to gradually promote party allies into key positions. This decision was justified on the grounds that the new government had to enforce its political will on a mechanism whose senior posts were occupied by political adversaries. Regardless of whether this argument is true, this strategy reinforced the tendency to fill top posts with political allies; that tendency was free from any policy concerns. Indeed, similar changes take place even when it ministers who belong to the same party are reshuffled. Their own appointees tend to fall with them. The purge of general secretaries and non-permanent officials during the latest reform is a an example of this. The most recent of these kinds of replacements is no longer taking place in ministries but rather in public corporations. The forced retirement of the board of directors of the General Bank under pressure from National Defense Minister Yiannos Papantoniou on the grounds that he wanted his «own people» in key posts is a classic example of such choices foisted from above. At the same time, the change in the administration of Attiko Metro AE is similar in nature, as Public Order Minister Vasso Papandreou is said to have appointed Yiannis Chrysikopoulos in order to restore her relationship with PASOK General Secretary and former Planning and Environment Minister Costas Laliotis. Such changes, of course, undermine government continuity and progress. Especially when they take place in public corporations, they entail additional adverse effects. Rather than serving meritocracy and stability, they take the country back to the times when the heads of public corporations changed at the will of the government and ministers for reasons of nepotism or to strengthen politicians’ hand. A few months ago, Papantoniou, who was by then serving as defense minister, recommended a bill that would ensure that the legal representatives of the National Bank of Greece and the Commercial Bank would not be appointed but instead be elected by corporate officials. The State did not, of course, give up its substantial control, but it did declare the official abolition of political appointments. With his recent initiative, however, Papantoniou shows that he does not have much respect for his own idea, and that he does not hesitate to bend principles when his personal desires so dictate. The only problem is that in this way, regardless of the skills of the people who come and go, the idea of meritocracy and stability in public administration is undermined while the previous impression that progress has been made in this area is undone. The Americans are at war and they have no time for the carping, for example, of those who go on about the treatment of Taleban and Al Qaeda captives. Both sides know that the initial photographs of the captives that were released from Guantanamo (in which the men were manacled, gagged and blindfolded) depicted only a brief period during their arrival in Cuba. One wonders then whether the photographs weren’t released by the Pentagon to show the folks in the American heartland that the enemy had been beaten and humbled – and to hell with what others might think? The problem, though, is that this is an interconnected world, and if America loses the moral high ground once, it will leave its own citizens and soldiers open to worse reprisals somewhere, sometime. Hearing critics in Europe should ring alarm bells about what those whom we cannot hear in the dark corners of angry Third World cities might be saying.

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