Are politicians in Greece promoting reforms or social cannibalism?

Agora Contributor: Nick Malkoutzis
en_GB Photo by Can Esenbel []
Photo by Can Esenbel []

Myths have fuelled much of outside perceptions of the Greek crisis. From the lazy Greeks to the runaway shadow economy, observers have sought explanations for the country's problems in these contrived and skewed observations on life in Greece. Like all fairy tales, though, they make for a good story but are rarely a true reflection of reality.

Greece and its citizens have paid a heavy price for the dissemination and perpetuation of these myths across the world. So it’s incomprehensible that people within the country not only buy in to these fallacies but are happy to promulgate them.

Government officials, for instance, have been too happy to portray Greece's civil service as bloated and corrupt, while at the same time distancing themselves from the fact that the two parties currently in power (New Democracy and PASOK) built this very same public administration.

In the struggle to keep up with the troika and cling to power, the civil service and the people that staff it have become disposable. Forget about the fact that since 2009 the number of civil servants has been falling and is no longer a European Union outlier; never mind that the civil service also contains honest and hardworking people. It's much easier to pander to the myth-believer in all of us.

The government agreed earlier this year to fire 4,000 civil servants by the end of the year and a total of 15,000 by the end of next year. As it set about deciding who these employees would be, speculation swirled that thousands of civil servants who were suspected of ethics violations would lose their jobs.

Alternate Interior Minister Leonidas Grigorakos claimed in August that 10 percent of the 85,000 civil servants hired between 2004 and 2009 had used fake qualifications to get their jobs. Here, at last, was a large pool from which the government could fire public sector workers and also look like it was fighting corruption.

Then the truth came out: Administrative Reform Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis revealed, to his credit, in October that the numbers had been exaggerated and that checks would not have the "expected results." There were no "armies" of civil servants ripe for the sack, Mitsotakis admitted. In fact, the maximum number of civil servants that could be dismissed for ethics offences stands at just over 2,000.

Rather than highlight its own failing in speeding up the disciplinary process for these bureaucrats, including the scandalous case of the two local authority workers who murdered a mayor in northwestern Greece, the government chose to look for someone else to blame.

In July, as the government scrambled to meet the troika's target of placing 12,500 civil servants in a mobility scheme, it decided to disband the municipal police. While the force had plenty of failings, it was hardly the drain on public finances that other government departments are. In fact, in Athens, where the municipal police monitored parking, the force generated more than enough revenues to cover its expenses.

However, the government needed to keep its commitment and someone had to be sacrificed. In order to soften the impact, government officials reverted to the tried and tested tactic – as used during the snap closure of public broadcaster ERT – of belittling the organization being shut down and the people who had served it. The tales of inefficiency and corruption were rolled out with immaculate timing. As ever, there was no discussion of holding to account whoever was responsible for this supposed mismanagement.

Worse still, the information given to the Greek public was misleading. Deputy Administrative Reform Minister Evi Christofilopoulou claimed that as many as 10 percent of the officers serving in the municipal police had obtained their jobs by using forged qualifications, including high school certificates and degrees. That appears to be a case of misdirection.

On Thursday, the ministry revealed the results of the checks it had carried out so far on the documents provided by all 3,576 people who served in the municipal police. A total of 54 percent of the documents had been checked and 30 officers had been found to have used forged papers, inspectors said. In other words, with just over half of the checks conducted, only 0.8 percent of ex-municipal police officers were discovered to have cheated the system.

Make no mistake, it is a big plus for Greece that liars and cheaters are being held to account. Their actions are indefensible. It is equally unforgivable, though, that new lies are piled onto old ones to defend policy and find scapegoats whose main purpose is to draw attention from the wider failings of those who held power. There has been no attempt, for instance, to bring to book the managers who oversaw the disarray in the public sector or those politicians who were responsible for appointing and monitoring them. Applying the principle of collective responsibility will not do when very specific mistakes and crimes have been committed at all levels.

The policy of throwing someone under the bus, often unfairly, to justify sacrifices is eroding what little trust there is left in our decision makers. Apart from being dishonest and cowardly, it feeds antagonism within our society. Often adopted by the media, the tactic of constantly looking for the next scapegoat on whom Greece's ills can be pinned encourages a form of social cannibalism that will eventually lead to no man being left standing. Rather than waste our time with other myths, the only story we should keep in minds is that of Cronus, the ancient Greek god that ate his children. 

1 Comment(s)

  • Posted by: H.Trickler

    Again a perfectly written text, but what could be the solution? Maybe Cronus will eat journalists??

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