Lessons from the catastrophe

And now, in the wake of the tragedy of the deadly fires that have swept across our country, claiming lives and ravaging thousands of hectares of land, what is to be done? The shouting and the cockfights on television are doing the nation no good. Because we live in a country which is prone to exaggeration and suffers from some kind of attention deficit disorder, it is almost certain that the fires will be forgotten in a few weeks’ time and we will be engrossed once again with structured bonds, the milk cartel or God knows what else. The question we now face is simple: What did we learn from this year’s fires? 1. The environment is an extremely important issue for Greece. The country’s guilty past, when no efforts were made to protect the environment, the greenhouse effect and the resulting climatic changes all presage a very difficult time for us in the future. Unfortunately, we must learn to live with devastating fires and floods. This much is clear. From now on, things will become even more dangerous and more complicated. And we must be prepared for this unwelcome development. 2. No one has the right to play around with issues pertaining to the environment and national security. Whoever holds the office of prime minister must search far and wide and find the most capable, the most highly qualified and the most forward-looking persons to hold the portfolios of environment and public order. There is no room for personality contests, nor for petty political interests or cliques. If the premier thinks so-and-so, who belongs to a rival party, is the best person for the job, then he should use him or her, in the manner of French President Nicolas Sarkozy. He should pay no attention to what party officials or parliamentarians might have to say. The environment and public order are no place for compromise or arguments of the type «he’s a good kid, let’s use him,» «I’ve got to appoint someone from Macedonia,» or, «the cards don’t come right otherwise.» The government must not take shortcuts when it comes to certain key positions. Such short-sightedness on the part of authorities invariably entails great expense. Whatever appears politically expedient will usually turn out to be very costly in practice. 3. Political appointments and cronyism in general are the rule in the state machinery, including the Fire Service. This practice must stop once and for all. The British and Americans despair when they see officials whom they have trained to a high level in their respective fields being transferred elsewhere or sent into retirement, simply because this is demanded by some party MP, as in the recent case involving Athens B district MP Katerina Papacosta. Any minister with a modicum of respect for himself and his country would select as head of the Fire Service, for example, someone who has special authority and is instructed that whoever telephones him and asks for political favors should be referred back to the minister, who would subsequently give him a piece of his mind. This is the way things should work. 4. The Fire Service, the Civil Defense secretariat and other services should be made subject to the process that was applied in the countdown to the 2004 Olympics. Let the British, Germans, whoever, come, in order to achieve the greatest effectiveness in fire-fighting and security. Let the prime minister himself undertake this task. He must inspire 30-something and 40-something professionals, people who need proper guidance and are thirsty for recognition, to do their jobs well. What do these people want? A technocrat at the head of the ministry who cares about what they do; a framework for action that is based on the best practices implemented in other countries; protection from the activities of conniving colleagues who go running to members of Parliament in search of favors and advancement instead of spending their time exploring ways to be more effective in their job and carrying out their tasks with discipline and good cheer.

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