OPINION

Domain of incompetence

The crisis is affecting all of us. If we haven’t yet lost our jobs or seen our incomes slashed, we all know colleagues, friends and relatives who are forced to bid farewell to all they knew, crossing the threshold of uncertainty. There are already 650,000 registered unemployed, more than 12 percent of the labor force. They have to find work within a year, while they still have benefits and their social security fees are being paid. According to the budget, though, next year the unemployment rate is expected to reach 14.5 percent. The Labor Institute (the research wing of the country’s biggest union grouping, GSEE), puts the figure at 20 percent. This does not include those who are working part-time, on reduced wages. It does not count those in the black economy who lose their work nor the long-term unemployed nor those who cannot even enter the labor market. Many businesses have closed, others are struggling, credit expansion is nearly zero. Tax revenues are down, forcing the state to make even further spending cuts. Everything is frozen. Into this wasteland go those who lose their jobs. They are all from the private sector, because the government and political parties are standing like watchdogs at the gates of the public sector, vowing that they will allow no one to hurt it. If they do not change their attitude, the country has no hope. It is a cliche that our public sector is much, much bigger than the country’s needs. The endless discussion about its size, though, eclipses the real problem: It is useless. If it were small and useless, that would be a problem. If it were large and useful, it would be another. The fact that it is huge and useless makes it a tragedy – the biggest cause of our current problems, the biggest obstacle to getting out of the crisis. The domination of mediocrity, the absolute incompetence of the state mechanism, is worse than the poor quality of our politicians and deadlier than the corruption of which we speak so much within our borders and abroad. Over the last three decades, tens of billions of euros were lost in European Union funding that was not absorbed or was spent on useless, exorbitantly priced projects and strategies, while the education, health and social security systems gorged on endless amounts of money without producing the equivalent quality. That is how public debt grew close to a possibly irreversible 150 percent of gross domestic product. However much we blame the corruption of those involved in spending public funds, something should have come of the money spent; we should have had something to build on. Incompetence, though, has wrought greater damage than corruption. We all know people who work in the public sector and who are honest, hard-working and capable, yet the institutional ineffectiveness of the system makes even the best of them worthless. With all this, the solution to the public sector’s problems is not just to reduce the number of its employees but to evaluate each and every one of them and to rebuild each service in a way that makes it functional and productive. Only then will we know which employees are useful and which useless. If this is not done, all the measures that the government must take in order to receive the next tranche of the EU-IMF loan will have limited results. The census of public sector employees, carried out a few months ago – with all that it revealed in terms of people drawing more than one salary and benefits to which they weren’t entitled – is a good start for this revival. Now we need to see the imposition of a hierarchy that will serve as the backbone of the system and the strict evaluation of employees. Whether surplus personnel will be fired or moved to another sector is a secondary issue. If the public sector is not made effective, all the people’s sacrifices will be wasted. Even more dramatic is the problem faced by the unemployed. They will be left helpless to deal with the effects of the crisis, the victims both of their employers’ failure and of a useless, expensive public service. Whether they depend on unemployment benefits or assistance to set up their own business, the needs of the unemployed are more important than the politicians’ need to protect their bloated private armies living off the state.