OPINION

Babbling in the dark

There’s a military joke that did the rounds a few years ago. An officer sent a scout to spy on enemy troops. He returned panting and reported, «There are 503 soldiers coming this way.» «How could you possibly count them?» asked the officer. «There were three in front and about 500 behind,» the soldier answered disarmingly. Unfortunately this is how we are going into battle on the social security reform front. We know that there are three funds to be reformed in the vanguard (IKA, TEBE and OGA) and about 200 hundred bringing up the rear. No joke. The social security reform debate is being held along the lines of the above joke. We don’t even know exactly how many funds we are dealing with. Social Security Minister Vassilis Magginas counted them about a month ago and came up with 149: «How can we possibly achieve even a rudimentary economy of scale and limit waste to the benefit of the insured when there are 149 social security funds operating in the country?» he asked Parliament on September 30. Last Saturday, the same minister did a recount and said there were 155 funds: «How can we possibly achieve even a rudimentary economy of scale and limit waste to the benefit of the insured when there are 155 social security funds operating in the country?» he asked the Central Committee of New Democracy. According to the chairman of the Committee of Experts on Social Security, Nikos Analytis, there are 174 funds: «As long as we have 174 funds with 174 reforms, we will be creating fertile ground for contribution evasion,» he said in an interview with Sunday’s Kathimerini. It would seem therefore that the reform involves somewhere between 150 and 200 funds. The country is again heading into a debate without knowing the facts. We don’t just mean the actuarial studies relating to the future, or that we do not have the details of the funds’ accounts. We can’t answer simple questions such as how much money they have and how much they need. We don’t even have a clear picture about which occupations are considered unhealthy and hazardous. As journalists we have learned, in confidence, that hairdressing is considered unhealthy, but climbing electricity pylons is not hazardous. We have heard that such discrepancies will be rectified, but no one can tell us how. Former US President Lyndon B. Johnson said that the first lesson in politics is learning to count. The same rule applies to reform. The second lesson is making sure you have all the information. The public debate is being held in the dark. The ministry should post all the data pertaining to social security reform on the Internet, with laws, decrees, lists of classifications, actuarial studies, and so on. Before we decide what we want, we should agree on the figures. At the very least, we should know how many funds there are.