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25 June, 2024
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The heavy cost of cowardice

Alexis Papachelas

Alexis Papachelas

I’ve heard a government minister speak about a vital agency of the Greek state and admit that “there’s nothing that can save this department – it ought to be shut down and rebuilt from scratch.”

I heard those words 15 years ago, and I heard something similar recently. It doesn’t really matter what agency the minister was talking about; rather, what is important is that different people from different parties and ideological backgrounds at some point arrived at the conclusion that key parts of the modern Greek state need to be dismantled and redesigned altogether.

The problem is that no one really has the courage to undertake this task. And there always comes a point when some official pays a heavy price – sometimes unfairly so – for his cowardice, as the loose edifice collapses, also leaving his own career in ruins.

The key question is, why hasn’t any politician ever had the courage? Why don’t they agree to reorganize some agencies given the fact that their foundations have been corroded by incompetence and corruption? An undertaking of this nature can only be attempted in the early days of an administration, when they have the necessary political room to maneuver and tolerance. As time passes, they tend to be consumed by routine, by the this-is-not-really-feasible misgivings of advisers, and concerns about the reaction of their political clientele. After all, party officials, unionists and media organizations know how to play catenaccio in defense of the bankrupt status quo.

There’s only one way of breaking such deadlocks, and that is by combining political will with honest consensus. In a serious country, authorities would summon the best technocrats in a particular field, e.g. firefighting, to provide ideas about how to set up certain units inside the fire service that would rely on top experts and technical know-how from outside. The government would then behind the scenes ask the opposition to back the initiative with concrete recommendations and political support.

Instead, we are again seeing the civil protection directorate end up in the hands of a party official. The government is appointing party-affiliated individuals to critical state sector posts, instead of promoting people who enjoy trust and respect in their fields. It creates the impression that the latest fire tragedy will too become the subject of political exploitation so that the government can appoint more of its own boys to old and new agencies.

But this will not help us move forward. It is bound to lead to more tragedies and crises, because at the end of the day, the people who suffer the consequences do not care if a politician actually managed to identify the problems but did not have the courage to tackle them. Accumulated cowardice, mismanagement and corruption in sensitive agencies will inflict a dire cost on Greece.

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