State ducking its responsibilities

The ease with which governments have set up independent authorities in recent years is in reverse proportion to these agencies’ actual capacity to deliver. As the phone-tapping scandal showed, the real power of these bodies is limited. It is no coincidence that Vodafone’s CEO in Greece failed to inform the Communications Privacy Protection Authority, nor did the government order him to do so. As a result, the authority was informed along with the public. No doubt the establishment of independent authorities is warranted by the political system’s need to appease public skepticism of the state’s credibility. Also governments seem to have found an easy and cost-free way of passing the buck without giving up their actual powers. The government’s bill for the creation of an independent state procurements authority is the latest addition to this trend. This newspaper does not question the need for strict checks on the legality of these contracts. In fact, we have often put pressure on governments to intensify such monitoring, as transparency has been on the wane in recent years. However, such controls can be exercised in different ways: There are responsible state mechanisms that operate under the political direction of the respective ministries. People elect governments to solve problems on the basis of their pre-election programs. The governments are then judged according to their success in tackling these problems. It is unacceptable for them to try and duck their responsibilities. Independent agencies draw their political mandate from Parliament, which appoints the administrative councils. However, as shown by the case of the National Radio and Television Council, agencies may take advantage of their independence to make decisions that contradict public sentiment or even common sense. It thus becomes clear that the establishment of independent authorities must meet a number of very strict conditions. But any authorities must also be supervised by the responsible parliamentary committees.