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What is the Future of the Public Sector in Greece? Part 2

This article is the second of a two-part posting. To read part one, see the Related Articles box below for a link.

Arie Halachmi

The changes that are needed to address each of these items necessitate the creation of new staff units at the central government level with corresponding counter-part units at the ministerial level. Eventually, similar units would have to be established at the provincial and local levels commensurate with their unique circumstances. Learning from the experiences of governments in other countries Greece should make better use of the resources that are available to it from the academia and corporate research entities.

In the January 2012 issue of Governance two British authorities on public sector management describe a global trend toward greater austerity when it comes to the business of government. The article notes that in many countries the salaries and pensions of public employees have been slashed. Agencies have been downsized and new measures were taken to freeze or reduce the hiring of new employees. There is no doubt that the foreign entities that were involved in assisting Greece to address its financial woes expect it to follow suit. The Hellenic government, under any leadership, is expected to demonstrate in a tangible way the use of austerity measures that are similar to those that have been taken by other countries around the world and in particular by those in Europe. Taking such measures is not intended to penalize public employees in Greece. However, from the civil servants point of view the consequences of such measures are likely to be perceived as an undue punishment given their dedication and hard work through the years. Such actions are likely to tarnish the reputation of being a civil servant, undermine the self-esteem and sense of professionalism among current employees while deterring future talented individuals from considering public service careers. It behoove elected officials, regardless of party affiliation, to take an immediate action to address the frustration and probable demoralization of public employees as such austerity measured are discussed. While elected officials cannot do much to mitigate the economic consequences for the civil service from the need to address the financial issues of the country a deliberate effort should be made to recognize the hard work and dedication of government workers. This, along with other measures that demonstrate confidence in this group’s professionalism and strive for excellence cannot be delayed. Such actions call for demonstration of goodwill and gratitude and do not require new appropriations.

The shrinking of the labor force to reduce the cost of government would require upgrading of the skills and knowhow of employees. To assure high caliber of employees and proper motivation to choose a career in the public sector there would be a need to revamp the structure of the civil service to align it with job classifications and compensation levels in the private sector. Introduction of various programs to increase the sense of professionalism among public employees along with focused efforts by elected officials to highlight the achievement of civil servants, their dedication and ingenuity should be a priority. Such an effort is necessary to combat the unfortunate consequences of the recent economic crisis on the economy, welfare, and professional esteem of government employees. Elected officials and the public should realize that public employees should not take the brunt of the short-sight and questionable policies they were asked to carry out. This time it behooves Greece to deviate from the tradition of killing the messenger of bad news…

It should also be noted that meaningful change and successful reform of the public sector cannot be imposed from the outside. Consultants, elected officials and civil society based organizations can articulate various ideas for addressing each of the four items listed above. They can and should debate them in Parliament, in media outlets and in open forms. However, at the end of the day such ideas should be explored in a critical manner by the use of multiple focus groups in two stages following the conceptual framework for planned change known as “Action Research”. This approach recognizes ythe fact that employees are an important source of ideas and insights of what needs to be done and the feasibility of alternative courses of action. First, focus groups that are made up of civil servants and representatives of their unions, professional associations should provide critical assessments of the ideas and concerns of outsiders. They should be provided with reliable data about the state of current affairs, e.g, employment data, or start their work by developing such a data base. In particular, these groups should examine the implications and the feasibility of possible ideas and plans for addressing the four items from economic, legal and fairness points of view. This difficult task implies that the work of these focus groups should be moderated or facilitated by academicians with expertise in areas such as public finance and accounting, economics, constitutional/administrative law and public management. Free and honest discussions within the focus groups should be assured by certain measures of confidentiality, i.e., ideas and contentions should not be attributed to individual participants by name. However, detailed reports about the issues and considerations that have been articulated by participants should be kept and be studied in the second stage of the process by a designated group of public employees that represent the various ministries and central staff units. The work of this group should be geared towards the development of a possible plan, or alternative plans, for a reform. As needed, members of this group should be provided with the means for contacting their counterparts in other countries to capitalize and mobilize the lessons learned by them. This group should also be asked to assess the relevance, feasibility, implications and legality of best practices from these countries to the situation in Greece. Such an approach may increase the likelihood that ideas and directions for the reform are not adopted without due consideration of the details and implications from the various perspectives assuring greater likelihood for the success of the reform.

By addressing the issues and factors that have to do with the structure of government, its standard operating procedures (SOP) and the labor force at the present Greece would be able to deal not only with the economic challenges it face but to demonstrate to outsiders and its own public a serious effort to put the house in order. This, in turn, would increase public confidence within and outside the government allowing the newly created central staff units at the national level to chart alternative courses of actions that elected officials can review and deliberate for a better future for the country and its civil service.

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Halachmi
and several distinguished Greek colleagues will present a panel during
the upcoming ASPA National Conference in Las Vegas, titled “Is
Reorganization of the State the Answer to the Greek Crisis?” on Sunday,
March 4 at 10:45am. For more information or to register visit the
ASPA National Conference website.

ASPA
member Arie Halachmi is the 2011 Distinguished Fulbright Professor at
Linz University (Austria). He is associate director of the National
Center for Public Performance (USA) and a visiting research professor at
the National Center for Public Administration Research in China. Over
the years, Halachmi has provided pro-bono training and consulting
services to state agencies, provincial governments and local authorities
in Greece. Email: [email protected]

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