News / Economy

    Reforming Greece's State Sector: New Face Takes on Old Problem

    Greece's Administrative Reform Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis speaks during an interview with Reuters in Athens, July 31, 2013.
    Greece's Administrative Reform Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis speaks during an interview with Reuters in Athens, July 31, 2013.
    Reuters
    As political jobs go, Greece's new reforms minister has one of the toughest: firing thousands of workers within months from a public sector that seems immune to change.

    But Kyriakos Mitsotakis, an ex-banker and son of a former prime minister, says his ambitions go beyond fulfilling numerical targets set under Greece's international bailout deal to keep funds flowing from the European Union and IMF.

    Reform, he says, is also about making Greek public employees accept what is standard practice elsewhere in the world - like  working the hours they are paid for, or losing their salary if they go to jail.

    “We did obvious things like send the auditors to check on whether people showed up on time,” said the 45-year-old former Chase investment bank analyst and McKinsey consultant.

    “We are sending a signal for the first time that we are going to check. Obviously we cannot check everyone, but you know we are sending a message that some things are changing,” he told Reuters at his Athens office which looks out on the Acropolis.

    At his own ministry, the audit showed that 20 out of 400 employees had enjoyed the equivalent of a day off in a month by arriving late or cutting corners here and there, he said.

    Greece's bureaucracy and the low-level corruption it breeds is another pet hate: Mitsotakis pointed to a document he had signed that morning bearing a row of boxes with signatures.

    “I sign personally for every transfer of every Greek civil servant, from one unit to another” he said. “Before me there are between 14 to 16 different signatures for one transfer. That is not an acceptable process.”

    Some see this as a now-or-never opportunity for overdue change. Long a critic of trade union practices and state waste, Mitsotakis is clearly bent on reform, but whether he can succeed where others before him have failed remains to be seen.

    Greece has repeatedly stalled on reforming a state apparatus beset by corruption and hiring based on personal patronage;  foreign lenders have warned that the billions of euros in aid payments cannot continue without change.

    Cases abound of convicted public employees still drawing their salaries when they're in jail, partly due to lengthy legal appeals and partly because nobody bothered to stop their pay.

    Analysts say deep resistance from vested interests, tight deadlines and skepticism about new ministers from established political families - Constantine Mitsotakis was prime minister in the early 1990s - are all factors working against him.

    “His family name, the fact that he is inexperienced as a minister and has the toughest task in the country are just a few of the hurdles,” said a political analyst who declined to be named.

    Mitsotakis in turn said he was confident because the coalition government is committed to a reform drive that has more public support than many people realize. “I wouldn't accept this job if I thought that I couldn't do it,” he said.

    Opinion polls show Greeks are divided over public sector redundancies. Some strikes have been disruptive but recent protests have been smaller than rallies of previous years. These had drawn crowds of more than 50,000 when parliament voted through austerity cuts demanded by the EU and IMF in return for rescue loans as Greece headed for near-bankruptcy.

    Facing skepticism

    Mitsotakis is blunt about why Greece has ended up where it is, and why it has struggled to change.

    “In the past, the Greek political system viewed the state primarily not as the provider of services but as an instrument to remain in power. So, the whole logic of clientelistic and patronage politics, in my mind, is at the core of why the country went bankrupt in the first place,” he said.

    “And now I think it is widely understood that this system can no longer be maintained.”

    Meeting Greece's obligations to lenders on its 713,000-strong state sector is proving a big enough challenge.

    When Mitsotakis was appointed minister for administrative reform in June, Greece had not put a single public sector employee into a transfer scheme, where workers are redeployed or fired. That compares with a mid-year target of 12,500.

    Mitsotakis owes his job to a Cabinet reshuffle made after Prime Minister Antonis Samaras tried to meet a layoffs target by firing state broadcaster ERT's entire workforce of 2,600. That provoked a fierce backlash and prompted a junior coalition partner to quit the government.

    Since then, he has looked past strikes and noisy protests staged by municipal policemen and teachers to identify more than 7,000 workers for the “mobility scheme”.

    “The mobility and exit logic will relate to people who got into the public sector from the back door - not through the front door,” he said, expressing optimism that he can meet targets for the rest of the year.

    According to ministry data, about 204 state workers have already been suspended or fired for violating the law. About 1,900 disciplinary cases were under investigation in June.

    After spending part of his childhood in Paris, where his father was in exile during Greece's military dictatorship, Mitsotakis studied at Harvard and Stanford universities in the United States before going into the financial world. He gave up that career a decade ago to switch to politics.

    Eyebrows were raised when Samaras named him reforms minister because Samaras brought down a government led by Mitsotakis Senior in 1993. Mitsotakis laughs off any suggestion of family animosity with Samaras, saying: “We have a very, very good working relationship.”

    However, he acknowledges a family name as prominent as his has its drawbacks at a time of crisis.

    “There is huge anti-establishment sentiment in Greece right now, so you have to prove every day what you do,” he said. “I understand this skepticism - I expect [someone like that] to work twice as hard to prove that he or she is actually worth it. And that's actually what people expect from me.”

    You May Like

    Video Democrats Clinton, Kaine Offer 'Very Different Vision' Than Trump

    In a jab at Trump, Clinton says her team wants to 'build bridges, not walls'; Obama Hails Kaine's record; Trump calls Kaine a 'job-killer'

    Turkey Wants Pakistan to Close Down institutions, Businesses Linked to Gulen

    Thousands of Pakistani students are enrolled in Gulen's commercial network of around two dozen institutions operating in Pakistan for over two decades

    AU Passport A Work in Progress

    Who will get the passport and what the benefits are still need to be worked out

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: MKS from: NY
    August 01, 2013 5:59 PM
    Yeah, a relatively new face with an old name and a member of the old party that was the root of the old problem. If you believe the very same parties that are now governing Greece and are responsible for the corruption will clear that corruption by sacrificing low level employees, I have a bridge to nowhere to sell you.

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movementi
    X
    July 22, 2016 11:49 AM
    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Poor Residents in Cleveland Not Feeling High Hopes of Republican Convention

    With the Republican Party's National Convention underway in Cleveland, Ohio, delegates and visitors are gathered in the host city's downtown - waiting to hear from the party's presidential candidate, Donald Trump. But a few kilometers from the convention's venue, Cleveland's poorest residents are not convinced Trump or his policies will make a difference in their lives. VOA's Ramon Taylor spoke with some of these residents as well as some of the Republican delegates and filed this report.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video With Yosemite as Backdrop, Obama Praises National Parks

    Last month, President Barack Obama and his family visited some of the most beautiful national parks in the U.S. Using the majestic backdrop of a towering waterfall in California's Yosemite National Park, Obama praised the national park system which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. He talked about the importance of America’s “national treasures” and the need to protect them from climate change and other threats. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Counter-Islamic State Coalition Plots Next Steps

    As momentum shifts against Islamic State in Iraq, discussions are taking place about the next steps for driving the terrorist group from its final strongholds. Secretary of State John Kerry is hosting a counter-IS meeting at the State Department, a day after defense ministers from more than 30 countries reviewed and agreed upon a course of action. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb reports.
    Video

    Video Russia's Participation at Brazil Olympic Games Still In Question

    The International Olympic Committee has delayed a decision on whether to ban all Russian teams from competing in next month's Olympic Games in Brazil over allegations of an elaborate doping scheme. The World Anti-Doping Agency recently released an independent report alleging widespread doping by Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. So far, only Russian track and field athletes have been barred from the Summer Games in Brazil. VOA's Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.
    Video

    Video Millennials Could Determine Who Wins Race to White House

    With only four months to go until Americans elect a new president, one group of voters is getting a lot more attention these days: those ages 18 to 35, a generation known as millennials. It’s a demographic that some analysts say could have the power to decide the 2016 election. But a lot depends on whether they actually turn out to vote. VOA’s Alexa Lamanna reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora

    World Currencies

    EUR
    USD
    0.9079
    JPY
    USD
    106.10
    GBP
    USD
    0.7636
    CAD
    USD
    1.3106
    INR
    USD
    67.076

    Rates may not be current.