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Bureaucracy: red tape, black money, and white knights

To pay for a minor parking ticket in Greece, as a visitor recently found out, requires a visit for four government offices, payment of two fines, and the good part of a day.

Such bureaucratic bulkiness may shock a foreigner, but to the Greeks, the government Goliath has no Davids who can slay it. The Consumer Institute estimates there is an average of three civil servants of every government position, a result of rousfettim (favoritism) which helps keep the ruling party in office. In 1981, public spending so far has been nearly 50 percent more than revenues taken in.

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In fact, both the economy and democracy in Greece have become all too dependent on an excess of workers. Red tape and slow decisions are among the most common complaints among Greeks. "They are right," says Greek Premier George Rallis. People even joke that a gift of money to the government would take a year to be accepted.

The whole economic system, says a leading Greek banker, "seems to thrive on this bureaucracy." But it certainly does put a drag on development.

Greece's entry into the European Common Market this year challenges Greek leaders to adopt new management techniques -- in business as well as government. Otherwise, the country may not withstand competition from foreign imports or companies.

In 1978, government and industry tried to copy European work habits, cutting back the workweek from six to five days. To maintain profitability, companies have been forced to search for gains in productivity and new technology.

Mr. Rallis, in an interview, promised (1) to establish a French-style civil servant training school; (2) appoint a ministry solely to cut down bureaucracy: and (3) set up a panel to judge public workers who fail to do their jobs.

In 1979, with the government eager to hold down spending and prepare for European competition, the US-based Arthur Young & Co. accounting firm was hired to revamp some 30 agencies, including tourist offices and public transport. The object was to set up "a constant thorn in the side of the Greek bureaucracy," says Young's Dave Winfield. The firm identified $300 million to $350 million in possible savings, or about 5 percent of government spending, and actually made some of them. A report by the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development praised the adjustments as possible models for other countries, but warned that Greek bureaucracy still needs "farreaching changes."

Ever since the modern Greek state was created in 1821, it has built in checks upon checks on bureaucrats, alongside job-security for even the most incompetent workers. Simple decisions often take 12 or more signatures. "Avrio, avrio" (tomorrow, tomorrow) is a common response. Deep respect for tradition, a trait that some say grows out of the Greek Orthodox Church, leaves little room for new ideas. Granting favors to a friend is considered more moral than giving promotions based on merit.

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There is a great fear of being pinned to the wall for a mistake. "Responsibility-avoidance is an art form well developed in the Mideast," finds an Arthur Young executive, who says Greeks are really "Arabs in pants."

Lack of management skills is one of Greece's most serious problems, says the minister of industry and energy, Stephanos Manos. "I have tried for some time to convince industry that it start management training centers."

Greek companies usually work as a one-man show. The family head runs almost everything. Wage structures are almost nonexistent, communication is poor, and delegation of authority is done warily. "You cannot discover good managers in the family all the time," says Nicolas Alectoridis, president of the Hellenic Organization of Small and Medium-Scale Industries and Handicrafts.

In the 1970s, the entry of foreign companies with efficient management showed the need for such practices as salary programs, planning, merit promotions, etc. In 1976, Greece had its first professional personnel management association, with 10 members. Now, with over 150 members, the group plans to set up a national management training institute patterned after German and British schools.

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