OPINION

Better, not smaller, government

For decades now, we have heard political party leaders promise streamlined cabinets but, when they did form a government, it was never small and never versatile. The fact that so many promised this and nobody accomplished it should be of some concern, as should be the fact that no one ever explained why streamlining is necessary, while many believe small means versatile, though this is not necessarily true. In contrast to many of our European peers, public administration in Greece is structured in such a way that it is overly dependent on the state mechanism of the time. Ministers are supposed to direct the state mechanism’s policies, meaning planning and choosing policies and overseeing their implementation. Instead, though, they function more as super general managers and this is why every ministry has so many lower-ranking bureaucrats running the show. Many years of this has stripped public administration of its potency and made it dependent on a mode of operation whereby no one wants to take ultimate responsibility and all decisions are knotted in red tape. For this situation to improve, we need a capable government with a well-designed plan, strong political will power and the potential to play a constant supervisory role. What we have seen so far – with ministries being thrown together without any particular rhyme nor reason simply to give the appearance of streamlining – obviously hasn’t worked. The number of ministers is not the real problem but, rather the fact that the ministries’ leadership does not operate as a unified front but as autonomous and competing fiefdoms with no strategy for coordinating their interests and activities. The only person who can really perform the role of coordinator is a prime minister backed by a handful of high-ranking officials who would oversee the larger sectors of government. The chances of this ever happening in Greece are slim, because its prime ministers see people who are supposed to help them as a danger.