They still prey.
That is why the Greeks should pray.
For the last thirty seven years they run wild preying on the public purse, literarily looting it.
The two parties that led this country to its demise spent money like there was no tomorrow. Their sole concern was their constituents, the labor syndicates which ensured retirement for some at the ripe old age of forty-five, pensions at a level close, at times equal, to the working incomes, wages and salaries for the public sector at levels not related to the nation’s income, way above those of the private sector; the farmers who, with the help of the Ministry’s operatives, finagled subsidies from the EU that made them “privileged class” and of course their voters who asked for a place under the sun of the well paid and underworked public sector and got it, even when there were no slots for them to slip in to, sinecure jobs being created by the thousands to accommodate them.
Of course there were public construction projects and defense procurements which enabled the politicians of both parties to spend and, according to the “buzz” in town, to ingratiate themselves with their bankers abroad.
It seems politicians perceived their duty as being one related to spending, never one related to creating the means. Tax evasion was not a problem they addressed. Wealth creation was but a superfluous concern. Greece is the most “closed” economy in the OECD. The politicians erected barriers to economic progress. There are nearly two hundred counter-incentives to free enterprise and to investments, indeed of a productive nature, hence the lack of economic dynamics which also reflects in the dearth of employment opportunities. In the days of the Socialist Governments “profit” had become a dirty word. The result was the aggrandizement of an economy of services and commerce. The Greeks got rich selling to each other. The private sector struggled to produce and export with some success. Some private sector entities boomed with contracts from the public sector, but the Government coffers were constantly in a state of depletion, with borrowing as their main source of “income”.
This is how the spending spree was financed. To add insult to injury, these same people who brought the country to its knees are the people who, they claim, will bring it up to its feet again.
The Minister of Finance is Mr. Venizelos, nicknamed Beni.
As minister of Development, about ten years ago he was tasked with the problem of securing income for the retirement fund of the Public Electricity Enterprise after the privatization of the company. He solved the problem by negotiating a settlement which gave the fund what amounts to a blank check. Its deficit to be financed by the Government. That problem solved the Corporation was then partially privatized with a part of it sold to the public. The Greek Tax Payers, thus received about three hundred million Euros from the sale of the shares quoted in the Athens Stock Exchange and paid to the Fund six Billion, so far and the bill keeps rising. To him the public purse was there to be preyed upon. Does it seem otherwise?
As minister of culture and sports he was responsible for the construction of the sports stadiums and other sports venues and facilities for the 2004 Athens Olympics. He was not in a hurry. The International Olympics Committee was furious with the delays and even threatened to move the games elsewhere. One American newspaper wrote that if the stadiums are completed on time they are bound to have the smell of paints on the day of the ceremonial opening, having been completed the day before. Unfazed he carried on. Every project was to be awarded to the lowest bidder but the loosing bidders would contest in court the assignment, so there were delays upon delays, thus “forcing” him to assign many projects without formal bids to contractors who fulfilled the ministry’s criteria. This “formula” kept everybody happy, including Beni, presumably. Now why did the press decide that the costs were outrageous and that the same projects cost much less in other countries? Is it for the same reasons that, according to the press, the construction of an expressway in Greece is excessive, compared to the construction of an autobahn in Germany, or an autostrada in Italy, on a per meter basis? Beni and the minister who was responsible for the construction of the expressways, C. Laliotis, may know. Preyer on the public purse?
Now Beni was confronted with another problem. Finland wanted guarantees that it will get back the money it contributes to the rescue packages for Greece, so Beni was quick to solve the problem, he obliged. Of course this created a new problem. Other countries started asking for same treatment, something Greece can not afford. Beni’s mentality is, obviously, one which calls for a solution to a problem, good or bad no matter, so long as it gets the problem out of his way. That is what the public purse is there for. Will this mentality help solve the current problems of Greece? God have mercy.
This government has committed to bring about the necessary reforms which will rid the economy from all its impediments to growth. So far progress has been nominal because the government is basically opposed to it, its socialist principles are not to be betrayed, obviously blind to the fact that if the country goes down it goes down the tubes first. Of course there is a small number of cabinet ministers who can see further than their nose but they are opposed by their myopic peers who are still in a world of their own.
This government should reduce public expenditures, but instead the budget deficit keeps growing and whatever reductions have been achieved so far have been a function of decreased social expenditures, which have hurt the have-nots and increased taxation, both direct and indirect, which in turn has hurt incomes, thus accelerating the contraction of the economy and reducing government revenues. To shrink the bloated public payroll is unthinkable. To reduce the number of public employees unacceptable. Unemployment is only for the private sector, already at 16% and rising. To do away with money consuming entities is beyond the scope of the socialist thinking. It is still let us prey on the public purse, it brings votes. Is this government in touch with reality?
Greece is not the only ailing Eurozone member. Ireland and Portugal are in the same boat, but they are taking the appropriate steps to shape up. Greece is not. How can the Governments of its partner countries substantiate to their Parliaments their willingness to help Greece, a country that simply refuses to help itself? The reforms agreed upon are not being brought about, so the Greek economy can not “get up and go”. The number of public employees is not being drastically reduced. Public sector expenditures are taboo, so the deficit is not being reduced and the country is falling prey to the inadequacy of the government and the myopia of the opposition party. If this sick situation continues Greece will be left on its own and out of the Eurozone, which means return to the drachma, which within weeks will loose almost half its value, the economy will therefore sink to the level of the sixties, in short Greece will become a third world country. But the prevalent thinking seems unchanged. Prey on the public purse.
There is of course the main opposition party which should bring hope to the country, however it too goes along with the mentality of no reduction to the numbers of public employees, they represent votes and its conduct of opposition is at best clumsy.
It is, therefore, time to pray. God may be moved to help this country which can not help itself. He has his ways. Since they are still preying, on the country, the Greeks should start praying, for the country.