Bloated public sector

The public finance task force set up by a draft law submitted to Parliament today by Economy Minister Giorgos Alogoskoufis and his deputy Petros Doukas may prove useful if it curbs the blatant waste of public money by ministries and public utilities. The International Monetary Fund recommended that the government establish the squad, citing annual reports of the Auditors’ Council showing that many ministries were greatly overshooting their budgets. Blatant waste in the public sector is the inevitable result of state expansion over the past 30 years, encouraged by partisan policies. In 1981, there were 327,000 public servants. By 2004 PASOK handed over a state with 596,000 public servants. Why were they appointed? Not to supply more doctors and teachers, since the greatest increase was in administrative employees and the growth of new technologies allowed public administration to get more done without new staff. The waste was the fault of politicians who offered jobs for votes. Already, in view of the elections, there is talk of 4,000 jobs in the rural police, 4,000 in hospitals (where there are in fact unacceptable staff shortages), 1,000 judicial employees and more officers for the task force. In the run-up to the Thessaloniki International Fair, Alogoskoufis is under huge pressure from colleagues to approve new appointments. But if this unscrupulous policy of offering jobs continues, then measures like financial inspectors are just a smokescreen. If the government really wants to curb waste it must start with practical measures such as abolishing the practice of some 4,000 police officers serving as bodyguards to various celebrities, including some journalists. If celebrities feel insecure, they earn enough to pay for bodyguards themselves.