A public policy bungle

Ships tied up in port, sailors subjected to civil mobilization, furious travelers, hoteliers in despair, shipowners expecting to recoup winter losses, and a government on the verge of a nervous breakdown. What spoiled this Pentecost weekend? Everything points to the government’s faltering attempt to deal with the complex problem of social security. After failing last year to make any real inroads into this long-term problem, its current plan is a reform in name only; it inspires no confidence. The minister in charge had everything but the system’s viability in mind, being more intent on improving the government’s image. His proposal, instead of covering part of the system’s huge deficits, made them even larger. Worst of all, it gave the public an impression of distributing handouts, which is not compatible with the funds’ poor shape. The government was in a state of confusion, claiming to introduce reform while simultaneously opening up new black holes. It was this confusion that led the merchant marine minister to draft a controversial amendment providing for an automatic increase, on January 1, 2003, in seamen’s pensions to 70 percent of pensionable earnings. Yet the finance minister (Nikos Christodoulakis) had outlined a long process of adjusting sailors pensions up to 2015. Anomeritis rushed to present his offer to the seamen before discussing it with the government’s economic team, who rejected it as too expensive. The rest is history. The seamen interpreted Christodoulakis’s refusal as a withdrawal of promises and returned to port. So now the burden has been transferred to the tourist economy in general. It is obvious that the current crisis is nothing more than the expression of the government’s inconsistency and vagueness on this crucial issue; one more incident among many in the government’s policy of vacillation, bound to result in crises, large or small.