Real managers or party cronies?

Sometimes I try to put myself in the shoes of serious people who for some reason decide to take a key public sector post, not because they are politicians or because they wish to make more money. I am referring to people like Panayiotis Athanassopoulos, who took over the helm of Public Power Corporation (PPC) following a bright career as the chief executive at Toyota Europe. He had a rough landing, for at the PPC nothing makes sense and nothing is predictable. At Toyota, they had trouble convincing their staff to set up a union, whereas at PPC one can never be quite sure who is in charge: the managers or GENOP, the PPC unionists. People like him must view their days in the private sector with great nostalgia. It must not be easy for low-profile hard-working types to put up with the most incredible scenarios, involving even his personal safety. So what? Some will say: «If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen,» as Harry S. Truman famously said. The problem with this rationale however is that we will end up having public utilities and other state companies run by incompetent party cronies or corrupt officials. The country needs people who are willing to assume responsibilities because they feel a sense of obligation toward society. I know that this sense of obligation, which made many people of the previous generation lose their sleep, no longer exists. These days the most common comment is: «Come on, he’s only after the money» or «Big deal, who does he think he is?» The ongoing turmoil could mean the end of Athanassopoulos and more people like him. We risk experiencing the same predicament that faced the former reformist prime minister Costas Simitis. I still recall a conversation with a close Simitis aide, during which I accused the PASOK government of putting incompetent officials in charge of state corporations. «Let me explain to you how things work,» he said. «I start off with a top 10 list of people who are experts in their fields. All of them say: ‘We will do whatever the president wants, but we will not get entangled with the public sector. We want to stay clear of the mudslinging, the prosecutors and the headaches.’ So I check with the next 10 on the list, only to get the same response. This is how we end up with this situation,» he explained. It is obvious that unless we appreciate the importance of putting responsible people in non-elected public sector jobs, we will soon reach a point where the PPC or other public utilities are run by unionists or senior officials whose only concern is not to be exposed by their fellow board members.

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