OPINION

Haves and have-nots

Those of us old enough will be able to remember the civil servant of the early decades in the postwar period as a caricature from the newspapers and revues of the time: lean, tattered, weak, and underprivileged. Demand for a post in the public sector was scarce, as everyone aspired to the private sector for a career and prosperity. Three separate, albeit interrelated, news stories from yesterday’s press reveal the profound change in the late Andreas Papandreou’s distinction between Greece’s haves and have-nots. These days, the public sector prospers while the private one undergoes a long slump. So, first it was reported that a third of all private schools risk a suspension of operations as teachers prefer a job with public schools. Second, a report by the Interior Ministry revealed the deep disparities in public sector salaries and that 417,479 civil servants receive various benefits despite their not fulfilling the necessary criteria. These benefits were distributed according to the lobbying that the various unions were able to make and the level of resistance shown by their political superiors. Third, the revenues and expenditures of the 2003 budget will increase at twice the expected inflation rate, while today’s Cabinet meeting is expected to be tense as several ministers are pressuring for sharp subsidy increases. Still, the two major parties struggle to win the cosmetic post of Athens-Piraeus super-prefect. They both try in vain to redraw political and ideological lines on crucial issues. In essence, however, they bypass the challenge of facing up to the really crucial issues, choosing instead to tackle subordinate and cost-free ones. The reason, of course, is that dealing with the most pressing problems, such as the overgrown and voracious public sector, entails a considerable political cost. Ignoring them, on the other hand, yields direct benefits for the party. This is where the problem lies.