OPINION

Counting the failures

If we are to believe the ambitious statements of government officials, the online census of the country’s civil servants currently under way will put an end to widespread impunity in the state sector. The real step forward however would be the establishment of a centralized payment system. Moreover, it would be great if state employees were all brought under the aegis of the Interior Ministry to allow for a better distribution of the labor force. Some services are seriously understaffed, while others suffer from the opposite problem. During a recent television debate, the Socialist government spokesman began wagging his finger in the face of a representative of civil servant union ADEDY, demanding to know the precise number of civil servants, as if that were any of the unionists’ business. This was not an isolated incident: Ministers have long complained that they do not know the exact numbers of their own staff. In any normal state that would be an admission of failure but not here. As a result, any sectors that raised either sound or groundless objections were instantly attacked as suspects trying to sabotage the government’s drive to clean up the system. The government could have overcome such obstacles just by being more careful in its wording. If government officials do not have a clear picture of the size of public administration, they only have themselves to blame. If they requested a separate tally for each department and simply added up the numbers, they would have a more or less accurate picture of the number of civil service employees, as well as their salaries and exact placement. An electronic database, updated with any changes, would quickly indicate any abuse of the system. However, the government instead has chosen to shift the responsibility onto the state workers themselves, threatening that they must sign up online or lose their wages (also it could have chosen a better time to do it than the summer). The prime minister owes state workers an apology for obliging them to do something that is the responsibility of the different ministries. The postmodern discourse of the Papandreou administration is a poor disguise for a behemoth state that likes to impose its will on its subjects.