The buck stops here

Greece is dogged by two serious problems that demand immediate measures: a ruined state mechanism and dysfunctional political cadres. The combination can be deadly, sometimes literally. The country needs politicians who are good managers. Managing a ministry is no cakewalk. And yet we see key posts occupied by inept politicians who are clearly at a loss. Extinguishing a fire is not about a fire service officer’s heroics or the department’s guardian angel. It’s about proper management and smooth coordination. The wave of populism that inundated the domestic political system in the 1980s left the state structure in a shambles. Professionalism gave way to adaptability and partisanship. A minister was telling me the other day that a senior fire service official had been pestering him, offering to garner votes on his behalf, expecting a career boost in return. How could such a person be entrusted with a key post? This is one side of the coin: that of the inadequate state which got a boost from the Olympics before sliding back into its old amateurish ways. The other side is Greece’s poverty in terms of political cadres. The prime minister himself often complains about his poor reserves. The premier won over many Greek voters and took New Democracy out of the political wasteland. He offered party cadres political hegemony and carte blanche handling. But their interest is confined to political gossip columns and live appearances on television, before heading for a weekend on Myconos. In a way, it all makes sense. Many of them grew up in university amphitheaters, never got a proper job and spent the barren years of opposition in Kolonaki street cafes. So, Karamanlis can either follow Simitis’s «this-is-Greece» mentality or he can sack one or two bad ministers to show that the buck stops here.

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