Letter from Athens: Yes, Mr. Minister, We Have No Bribes Today

February 13, 2021
If you've ever had the misfortune to need to do business in a Greek public office – not including, of course, the many truly dedicated professionals who do thankless jobs – more likely than not you saw sloth inaction, workers smoking, yakking on the phone, drinking coffee, and almost anything other than waiting on people in need.
Trust me, you'd be better off seeing laws or sausages being made than what doesn't go in in these places where you'll need the Patience of Job. That's Joeb – don't say the word ‘job’ or ‘work’ –  to get what you want.
If it's a license, permit, or ID card be prepared for the thousand-yard stare on the other side of the counter or glass, a couple of coughs and the look of a maitre'd who could steer you to the right table with all the celebrities nearby for the right incentive.
Now, thanks to the exhaustive efforts of the gallant crew of New Democracy Capitalist leaders that's about to end, and maybe they can even make the dirty trains run on time.
Knowing that these offices have a long-standing reputation for being inefficient, bloated and full of deadwood they hired, many workers needing firecrackers in their ears to wake up, the government of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis is finally going to be the ones to do something about it!
No longer will you see piles of papers in the floors instead of in filing cabinets. No longer will you see people using computers to check their Facebook pages, shop online, and browse for photos that could get them in trouble.
Ulterior Motive Minister Makis ‘Party Jumper!’ Voridis, who knows about efficiency given his dark fascist past – what he calls being a national liberal while he's a member of a conservative party – said he'll institute meritocracy and root out corruption.
Yes sirree Adolph, if you want a government bureau to run right, what better person could you find than someone who knows how to keep people in line, although instead of demanding 40 hours of work instead of 40 hours at work, he's going to give bonuses.
No longer will Greek public workers be forced to face the daily chore of showing up AND working while being paid and everyone treated as equals. Now they will be rewarded for showing up AND working but some will be more equal than others.
Besides extra pay for doing their jobs better – it's likely based on the Parliament model where lawmakers are paid extra for attending their committee meetings – public workers who excel will get more vacations and promotions.
The tricky part is that they have refused to be evaluated, which will make it a little tough to figure out who's working and who's not but, why not leave it up to them to self-evaluate given that Greek schools routinely give most students ‘A’ for showing up.
True, this means that all the more than 600,000 or so public workers – perhaps a million if you count those working in agencies such as the railroads, energy and other public sectors – would be eligible for bonuses, vacations and promotions.
Don't be judgmental. Most of these are not shiftless. In fact, if you look closely while you're standing in line for an hour or so you can almost see some of them shift, if only to reach for a coffee or cigarette.
You can almost hear the howls from their union offices now screaming that this is an unfair stereotype, but that would require a stereotypist and at last check there weren't any sitting at their keyboards.
In 2015, Florida's then Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater said Greece had half the population of his state but three times more public workers, not surprising in that the Greek Parliament has 300 lawmakers compared to the 535 in the United States – which has 32 times the population.
The question is then begged: how did Greece get so many public workers? They were handpicked from a select group of political loyalists, the top in their class being able to spell p-a-t-r-o-n-a-g-e with fewer than three tries or having an uncle, cousin, friend, or friend of a friend who could get them appointed with no qualifications needed!
After all, that's how ministers are appointed, not based on their expertise or background but knowing someone who knows someone who used to know someone who thinks they know someone who knows someone.
That's meritocracy in Greece, or more accurately, pluto-cracy – not a government of the wealthy, which Greece is, but from Pluto because that's where you're going to want to send some of them when your frustration level goes past that planet.
This is not to besmirch, impugn, or bespatter the honest efforts of good workers who are surrounded by too many who aren't, but to point out rewarding people for doing their jobs better sounds like General Patton offering the soldiers some R & R in Paris if only they'd fight.
There's a scene in a Kojak where Telly Savalas puts it best about what's expected in your work. He's being praised for solving a case and says, “I'm just doing my job.” Tell that to the workers in Greek office, but just to make sure they heard you slip in a 20-euro bill and tell them it's a bonus.


Yiannis was not in a good humor that wintery November Sunday in Dixon’s.

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