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Why Make Things Simple When They Can Be Complicated?!

I would suggest that this should be the motto of the Greek civil service. Anyone who lives in Greece knows full well how it operates – or rather how it doesn’t operate. I had to deal with them again yesterday, which is why I’m writing this post now.

As in every country, there are plenty of intelligent and common sense people in Greece. The problem is that hardly any of them happen to be in the civil service. As I watched all the poor people, yesterday, running back and forth with sheaves of papers in their hands I thought how disrespectfully we treat each other. Most issues that people need to sort out are basically quite simple and yet we have to go from one desk to another, collecting papers, rubber stamps and signatures, whilst desperately hoping that we can get it all done without having to come back again (a forlorn hope).

One of my own particular peeves each time is what they call the ‘protocol number’. In almost every piece of business, the person you are dealing with will tell you that you have to go and get this number before he/she can proceed. You go find this person – usually a woman stuck in a small office somewhere – and they write down your details in a large ledger, with a number, before you can go back and continue. Almost invariably, someone else is now being attended to and you again have to wait.

Why can the person you are dealing with not just put a number in the computer? Why do we have to run off to get a number from someone writing people’s names and numbers in a huge ledger like a throwback to Victorian times? Why do we need to go to what seems like a minimum of five different people in five different departments to get anything done?

Greeks are proud – quite rightly – of the great minds that lived here in ancient times. But these people – Socrates, Aristotle, Pythagoras, Hippocrates etc – were great thinkers that thought out of the box and their ideas and discoveries are still fundamental to so many fields such as maths, physics, medicine etc today. Why can’t the minds in Greece today not think like that any more?

Unfortunately, as I mentioned above, the intelligent ones are usually not in the civil service. This is partly the reason why things don’t work simply and efficiently, but the main reason is the political cost that would accompany making it efficient. An extremely high percentage of people working in the public sector are not needed and it often seems that a lot of the procedures have been created just to justify the existence of them all. I don’t know the exact figure, but over 30% of the working population are in the public sector in Greece. This is an enormous figure, and we are basically paying a huge amount of money for these people’s salaries, benefits, pensions etc and they are not actually producing anything. Plus the fact that a large number take early retirement.

However, no government will risk the political cost of reducing the numbers and ensuring that those that remain are efficient and suited to the job. And simultaneously help create work in the private sector. I was thinking, where else is so much inefficiency and bureaucracy tolerated. Imagine going to buy an airline ticket, for example. The employee in the agency tells you that you have to go to another employee to get an application form to buy a ticket, which you fill in and then go to two other people in the office for them to stamp and sign it. Then they tell you that you have to go to the airline office itself to get a confirmation form that there are seats available. Having got that and come back to the travel agent, you have to go to another person sitting in the corner of the office who will write down your details in a huge ledger and give you a protocol number. Finally, you get your ticket! Yet this (and much worse!) happens in the public sector.

When will someone have the courage to create a public sector which is respectful and helpful to people? Wouldn’t it be great if you came to one of the services and a smiling person greeted you as you came in and asked how they could help you. Then they accompany you to one of the assistants who deals with your issue without sending you to anyone else. While you are waiting, someone else comes and asks you if you’d like some coffee. And everything is dealt with quickly and efficiently in a clean and welcoming environment, without you having to get up from the seat.

In the words of John Lennon, “You may say that I’m a dreamer; but I’m not the only one”

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2 comments:

  1. Anonymous Says:

    One must remember, however, that this is how the British conquered their colonies and created their empire, by bombarding hitherto simple folk with burocracy.

  2. vision2eyes@gmail.com Says:

    great blog keep up the good work

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