License to plunder

In 1984 I was in Lisbon for a conference of EEC state companies. It was during a dinner on the first night that I heard some members of the Greek delegation expressing their surprise at the fact that the newly elected conservative prime ministers of France and Germany, Jacques Chirac and Helmut Kohl respectively, had decided to keep in place the public utility managers appointed by the outgoing socialist administrations in their countries. The folk at PASOK were of course stunned, as in Greece managers come and go with the governments. Public utilities and the entire state apparatus are treated by election winners as booty. Top posts and privileges go to the party acolytes. The heads of state enterprises are aware that their tenure will last no longer than that of the government or minister who appointed them, an average of two or three years. As a result they seek to maximize gains from the various perks such as cars and luxury trips, that is when they are not making money from kickbacks and shady deals. If there is one thing they avoid, it is shaking up their organizations. To ensure peace, they make an alliance with the unions and give jobs to those who will vote for the minister in the next election. The fraudulent behavior of the two biggest parties that have ruled Greece in the years since 1974 explains the lack of continuity in the public sector. Those involved seek to stuff their pockets with money for the years ahead. PASOK, which in the period 1995-2004 ran up an 8 billion euro debt at OSE railways and Olympic Airways, is now criticizing the government for trying to reduce the squandering of state money on the grounds that it is causing social unrest. If socialist officials such as Evangelos Venizelos really wish to rescue the tottering pension funds, they should ditch their populist sound bites and help the government stamp out corruption and waste.