Σάββατο, 25 Φεβρουαρίου 2012

The weaknesses of the contemporary Greek Beaurocracy

The Greek bureaucracy is relatively large in size but remains largely inefficient and weak compared to political parties which have alternated in power since the fall of the colonels' regime. The inflated nature of the Greek bureaucracy and of the central government is indicated by a few statistical figures. The size of the Greek cabinet rose from 32 ministers in 1973 to 57 in 1988.



According to OECD data, government expenditure as percentage of the GDP rose spectacularly from 21 percent in 1976 to 51 percent in 1988 and public sector employment as percentage of total employment increased from 8.5 percent to 10.1 percent in the same period. However, according to another estimate by Tsoucalas, which applies to the period of PASOK in power, the number of civil servants increased by 21 percent between 1981 and 1989.


The fact is that the size of state personnel had already started growing when Nea Democratia was in power; as OECD data show, in 1970-1975 the average annual growth rate of employment in general government was higher than the equivalent average in 1975-1982 in all OECD countries (including Italy and Spain) except for Greece, where government employment grew faster in 1975-1982 than in 1970-197517. From the mid-1970s until the mid-1980s public enterprises proliferated as the New Democracy party nationalized a few debt-ridden private enterprises after the transition to democracy and PASOK created new state-owned companies to intervene in the private sector of the economy. As a result, according to an OECD report, "total employment in the wider public sector (including utilities, firms and banks under state control) accounted for almost 30 percent of total dependent employment in 1990".
   
The increases in all statistical figures cited above belie the reality of weakness of the Greek state. The Greek bureaucracy is rather large for a country which still is at a middle level of economic development and does not yet have a comprehensive welfare system. Yet the same bureaucracy is not strong enough either to make its presence in the economy decisively felt in the sense of a competent state machine which steers economic development) or resist the periodic incursions of alternating political elites and party personnel in its interior.

In fiscal terms the Greek bureaucracy is practically unable to impose direct taxes on the population. In 1991 in Greece taxes on personal income amounted to 4.8 percent of the GDP, while the European Union average was 10.9 percent. Taxes on corporate income amounted to 1.7 percent of the GDP of Greece, while the European Union average was 3.0 percent. On both accounts the performance of the Greek state is very low when compared to other member-states of the European Union, including Southern European countries with similar labor force profiles (i.e. with relatively large employment in the sectors of agriculture and petty commodity production).

 The tax raising capacity of the Greek state has remained almost stagnant between 1980 and 1991 as tax revenues from personal income as percentage of the GDP rose only by 0.5 percent, while tax revenues from corporate income rose only by 0.6 percent between the same years. The chronic inabilities of the Greek bureaucracy are also shown by the fact that in 1975 funds collected from direct taxes constituted only 21 percent of total state budget revenues and in 1988 the same kind of funds increased only to 27 percent of the total.

In terms of management and re-organization the Greek bureaucracy depends on the whims of the leadership of the two major political parties which have succeeded each other in power, forming single-party governments, for a total of nineteen out of the twenty-one years that have passed since the 1974 transition to democracy. Both parties, New Democracy and PASOK, have inflated the political component of bureaucracy by creating inter-ministerial committees of political appointees and councils of advisers to ministers as well as whole new ministries out of former public agencies or secretariats. Between 1981 and 1989, while PASOK was in power, a total of twelve laws reorganizing the central government and the public administration were passed and in 1990-1993, while the New Democracy party was in power, another five such administrative reform laws were voted by the parliament.

In contemporary democracies central bureaucracies are often controlled by the governing parties or coalitions of parties in varying degrees. In Greece democracy has been associated with a clientelistic domination of the bureaucracy. Government changes are directly linked to ensuing administrative changes. An extensive ebb and flow of administrative personnel and structures accompanies each succession of parties in power, making the Greek bureaucracy a prime example of a modern party politicized state institution. Although successive majoritarian party governments are not always able to implement fully their policies due to some bureaucratic obstruction, whenever there is a determined minister, supported by competent advisors, there is very little that the Greek bureaucracy can do to counter government plans.
Greek bureaucrats are usually trained in law or political science, but rarely have additional pre-service or in-service training. They lack expertise in modern methods of management, do not keep up with developments in new technologies and do not constitute an independent cohesive group. Even the higher administrative personnel is fragmented into many "corps," none among which shares an "esprit de corps" or at least a common social background. Change of "corps" is impossible and inter-ministerial mobility of civil servants is very rare.

The organizational fragmentation of the civil service is complemented by its political factionalism along party affiliations. The parties of New Democracy, PASOK and KKE (the communist party) have put forward their respective labor organizations of civil servants, which struggle for power in ADEDY, the nationwide general confederation of unions of civil servants, and in each ministry or public enterprise. If at the collective level interest representation is attained through party-led unions sharing power at the national-level confederation, at the individual level career advancement is achieved through the mechanisms of bureaucratic clientelism. Essentially, bureaucratic clientelism, a recent phenomenon in Greece, differs from older forms of clientelism in that a party bureaucracy, not a single patron, acts in an organized, bureaucratic fashion to infiltrate the state machine with party devotees and distribute favors to party clients such as initial hiring, quick promotion or favorable transfers to better posts in the civil service.

The distinction between bureaucracy and governing parties, employed in this paper despite the close association of the central bureaucracy with political power in contemporary Greece, is useful in order to qualify the image of the overpowering Greek bureaucracy.

Our main point has been that political parties rule unchallenged over the central bureaucracy, which, because of a long tradition of interest intermediation through patronage mechanisms, has never acquired an independent status in the political system of modern Greece. A political culture evolving around the logic of individual intermediation with the power-holders, a pluralist but polarized party system, and the vagaries of acutely divisive political conflict throughout the twentieth century have contributed, among other factors, to the subjection of the administrative system to the fluctuations of the political system, making the former wholly dependent on the latter.

 If the contemporary Greek bureaucracy seems overgrown, due to the proliferation of administrative structures and the recruitment of new employees, fuelled by party patronage, its inflated size does not correspond to a build-up of bureaucratic strength. If anything, the Greek bureaucracy today resembles a colossus with feet of clay.

By Dimitris A. Sotiropoulos

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