Cyprus Mail
CM Regular Columnist

Letter from Athens: the seven plagues of Greece

The largest plague of the country is probably statism, the central axis of which is the premise that the state exists to solve the problems of its citizens irrespective of their own personal responsibility

GREECE is well into the European and the municipal election process while warming up for the national elections anticipated to take place in the autumn.

The protagonists of this race are Alexis Tsipras, the leader of the leftish Syriza, and Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who is leading the New Democracy party.

The image of Syriza among the electorate is that of a party voted to power in 2015 to get Greece out of the economic mess she found herself in at the time – Hope is Coming was the party’s election slogan – but, instead, it managed to make things worse until the point of the complete turnaround in economic policy, which led the country into a slow, gradual recovery.

The currently prevailing feeling amongst the voters is one of exhaustion and fatigue but also of a feeling of relief that the worst is over.  However, the fundamental problems of Greece, which led to the crisis, remain unresolved.

What is truly worrying is that none of the Greek political parties has a clear strategy, which could lead to the definite resolution of these problems, nor is there any serious discussion amongst the county’s political forces, which could lead to the formulation of a national strategy for addressing the problems.

The election struggle is focused (as in the past) on scoring in terms of impressions and on the pre-election “handouts” (on the part of the governing party) and the delivery of promises (on the part of the opposition), without any reference to the existence and specification of targets and of action plans capable of tackling these problems or on how such action plans would be financed (beyond certain vague references to the intention to utilise the “surpluses of the economy” for this purpose.

The seven plagues of Greece

The seven plagues of Greece, to which no specific reference is made in the election campaign, are the following:

  1. An incompetent and corrupt civil service, which is work-averse and negatively disposed towards the assumption of any responsibility. A public service that has consistently proved to be incapable and ineffective in discharging its supervisory role. Of course, there are exceptions but such exceptions simply confirm the rule.

 

  1. A faltering education system, which is staffed by people who have lost the sense that they serve a profession and where competence is not only not rewarded, it is not even measured. The consequence of the conditions which prevail within the education system, is the flourishing of a parallel educational system, functioning in the limelight, and the generation of people with deficient critical skills and an aversion to exercising intensive effort.

 

  1. A deficient public health system, which malfunctions and causes discomfort and often results in the ineffective treatment of patients, despite the existence of a significant number of competent medical practitioners. The prevalent problematic conditions within the health industry promote the wastage of resources, such as the overconsumption of drugs, and lead to the downgrading of the quality of the services rendered, despite the high cost of these services, which is mainly covered by work-related contributions.

 

  1. A bankrupt pension system, which – despite the extremely high contributions of the working population – up to 81 per cent of earnings – has become problematic form the consistently irresponsible behaviour of politicians either through the wasteful disbursement of resources or through the irresponsible granting of benefits to people who have not contributed to the cost of such benefits. Under these circumstances the bankruptcy of the system was and, unfortunately, remains inevitable.

 

  1. A complicated and often unbearable tax system, which promotes tax evasion and corruption and ultimately leads to the creation of a vicious circle. It is generally accepted that any tax system, which entails the payment of taxes beyond one third of earnings, is dysfunctional and inevitably leads to the expansion of the black market and consequently rampant tax evasion.

 

  1. Also typical is the lack of a development infrastructure, despite the significant economic support received in this respect from the European Union. These facilities remain deficient because the state channels the available resources into providing employment to the unemployed and in covering the cost of consumables, rather than in generating the necessary development infrastructure.

 

  1. However, the largest plague of the country is probably “statism”, which has been systematically cultivated by Greek politicians within the spirit of the “handout” mentality. A concept the central axis of which is the premise that the state exists to solve, and indeed is obliged to solve, all the problems confronting its citizens, irrespective of the cost of such an intervention and irrespective of the extent of the responsibility of the citizens themselves in causing the problems. This mentality has been cultivated by both right-wing and left-wing governments because it was a stand that allowed politicians to exercise control over society, the members of which consistently refused to comprehend the consequences of their attitude, namely that the resulting cost would ultimately be borne by the citizens of the country and never by the politicians.

 

Somebody may say that these problems appear to be very similar to those confronting Cyprus. This is a correct observation. However, while Greece needed approximately 200 years to reach these negative achievements, Cyprus has reached a comparative level of incompetence in less than 60 years. I wonder whether a leader capable of taming the beast will ever come to the fore.  I must admit that I am not very optimistic.

 

Christos Panayiotides is a regular columnist for the Cyprus Mail, Sunday Mail and Alithia

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