Thursday, June 23 2022

The public sector is constantly criticized, accused of being problematic, unproductive and often even corrupt. However, we tend to forget that, to a large extent, we are the Greek state. Many are employed in the public sector and we elect the officials responsible for staffing it – and supposedly evaluating the performance of that staff and making sure everything is in line.

A few days ago, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis spoke about plans to overhaul the Greek state. Indeed, a state that is free from the influence of politics and operates on the principles of meritocracy is a visionary promise made by all governments since the restoration of democracy after the 1967-74 dictatorship. Often these proclamations sound promising.

The problem has no ideological color. There are many leaders, from all parties, who sincerely want to make a difference, but come up against a wall of organized interests, and favors to a wide range of recipients, from political parties to corporations and unions.

For reforms to be implemented – resistance is both horizontal and vertical – there needs to be decentralization and political leadership moving away from the process.

Greece has the human capital necessary to create an effective state and competent people at all levels of public administration.

However, reform must come from above to send a powerful message. Appointments to the highest civil service positions should not be made on the basis of party interests and personal political connections. They must go to the best candidate, regardless of their political affiliation.

From the judicial system to independent state authorities, the only questions should be: does this person have the qualifications and credentials? (and) Will they serve the public interest to the best of their abilities? Once these questions have been satisfactorily answered, the chosen person should also be assured of full support, on both sides of the island.

This is the only way to ensure that the state will not fall back into clientelist practices, but will on the contrary be able to produce results over the long term.

Political interference in the functioning of the state is one of the biggest issues Greece’s creditors have insisted on since 2010. Their message was simple: “You need people who don’t belong to one side or another and who will be able to do their work without hindrance. .”

The dismissal of Haris Theocharis as head of the General Secretariat of Public Revenue in 2014 cast a shadow over the government of the day and undermined the ongoing reform effort.

On the other hand, the recent reappointment of Giorgos Pitsilis as governor of the renamed Independent Public Revenue Agency sent the right message.

It’s simple: is the person capable and has they shown results? It doesn’t matter which government appointed them in the first place. Are they effective? If the answer is yes, keeping them is in everyone’s interest and ultimately in the best interest of the country.

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