Greek Statistics 202

Nothing could harm the country more right now than a repeat of the statistics fiasco. It was the fudging of public accounts that set Greece on its downward course in the first place. If it has any, albeit slim, chance of regaining market trust, it hinges on an exact and honest tally of the numbers. If we try to trick our rescuers again, the consequences will be very, very unpleasant. What’s the problem now? For years, the Greek state has been in a shambles, due to a combination of the incompetence and slipperiness of high-ranking state officials. Crucial services such as the General Accounting Office and the National Statistical Service had been turned into centers for hiding, manipulating and ultimately transforming various statistical data. One person who visited a finance minister remembers well the surprise he felt when he heard him tell an employee to fudge a number on an important fiscal report. These services do have some very capable staff members and experts, and there was a time when they operated according to the highest standards. But, over the years, they have sunk into the same quagmire that has sucked in the entire state mechanism. And so, today, finance experts from the International Monetary Fund and European Union cannot believe some of the things they’ve seen: ministries and state services in which there is not a single person with a complete picture of what is going on, the complete absence of data on the majority of the public sector, as well as a lack of know-how regarding the collection of data. To make things worse, they are also faced with cases of deliberate delay tactics meant to hide evidence of currency swaps from previous years or the real debt of public companies. So far, they have not held the finance minister or the new chief of the statistics service responsible because they have earned their trust with their professionalism. Our foreign partners, however, do understand that a culture of hiding facts and lying, coupled with ineptitude, makes the collection of real data very difficult. At this juncture, there are two questions that must be answered. The first: What will the government do, remain true to its promise to reveal all or succumb to the old methods? The second: What will happen come December if the IMF and EU decide that Greece either can’t or won’t ever learn to tell the truth?