OPINION

Misguided debate

The debate over municipal and local elections is gaining intensity as the polling date approaches. Its content, however, is misguided. The debate is exclusively focused on the mayoral candidates and so-called super-prefect candidates for three or four key cities and large municipalities, its sole purpose being to speculate over or even influence the outcome of the 2004 parliamentary elections. No party seems willing to seriously, or at least superficially, deal with the issues and the problems of local administration per se. This is a major mistake. A wide range of responsibilities and an unprecedented amount of funds have been transferred from central to municipal authority, a fact which promises great prospects for development but which also threatens to make local administration a gaping wound for the Greek economy and government – especially in the event of poor administration. Running the municipalities that have come together under the Kapodistrias Plan requires far more qualified local administrators. Otherwise, cases of corruption, political favor, maladministration, public funds abuse and poor performance will intensify compared to when the central authorities had responsibility over the many matters which now fall under municipal control. The real prospects look dim. Municipalities are growing into bureaucratic bodies that function according to partisan criteria, making superfluous and politically motivated recruitments and imposing local tax hikes not justified by their deeds. The quality of their public services is declining and, as a result, cities look as if they are being deserted, while villages give the impression that they are falling to ruin or have been isolated since, instead of enhancing their collective power, the unification of different local regions has actually undermined local administration in all areas but the leading municipality that encompasses all the others. The future of one of the most essential reforms is at stake, but no one seems to care. Parties fight about the connection between Yiannis Tzanetakos, the conservative candidate for the Athens-Piraeus super-prefecture, and Archbishop Christodoulos, or about the alleged lead in popularity of PASOK candidate Fofi Yennimata, a figure with hardly any political record.