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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

UNCIVIL SERVICE

Public Disservice I recently had a bad experience with a Greek public servant. Before I tell you about it, I shall quote the British ambassador to Greece in 1981: ‘First, inefficiency and corruption. The Greek public service is bureaucratic, slow moving, and highly politicised. The administration finds it difficult to respond to the need for reform […] Though the Greeks are good at making plans, they are less good at carrying them out, and past masters at changing them for new plans. […] Where the administration and citizen come face to face, there is also inefficient and sometimes inhumane bureaucracy. […] The problem is partly an Ottoman bureaucratic tradition which revels in documentation and in which the petty official, not able to take responsibility for positive action, shows his power by obstructing his fellow citizens; partly the effect of the low level of education of the majority of civil servants, compounded by the propensity of all governments to put placemen into the administration (which in turn results in over-manning).’ Thirty six years later: I attended a court as a witness. The official turned up twenty minutes late. She did not apologise, or even excuse herself. I began by saying that they had left the letter asking for me to attend in the open, and not in an envelope, at the front entrance of our block, for all to see. The official’s reaction was to ask me to take my hands out of my pockets, and to sit straight up in the chair. I would have taken my hands out of my pocket, in any case, but she forestalled me, saying that in Greece one had to take one's hands out of one's pockets. When I used an English word, she rudely said that I must speak only Greek. She said that I should have brought an interpreter. I replied that I did not need one, but that with patience, we would manage it. When I presented my British passport, the official (more officious than official) asked about the oath and my religion. When I explained that I had no problem with taking the oath on the Bible, as I am Christian Orthodox, she still seemed disconcerted. I asked her to speak more slowly, but she did not. So I gave them my Greek ID. She looked surprised, apparently unable to see that a Briton could also have Greek citizenship, let alone be a Christian Orthodox. It suddenly became simpler for her. She asked me to put my hands on the Bible, which I did (I assume that it was a Bible, although I did not open the yellowish book). I told her that she must try to find some manners. Anyhow, I got through the whole testimony in Greek, speaking succinctly, and reading from a few pertinent documents. For some reason the rude official dictated the first document to the secretary. At the end, while checking through the testimony typed out by the well-mannered but frightened secretary, for my and the official’s signature, I asked her whether it was illegal to have one's hands in one's pockets. She started shouting really loudly, in the presence of the secretary, and another visitor, with whom she had already started to deal. I asked her not to shout, and said: 'Shh!', but she continued to shout, saying that I must speak in Greek. Yet I WAS speaking in Greek! I said that I might put in an official complaint. I then left, having ensured that she had signed my testimony. I pointedly thanked the secretary for her good manners, ignoring the unprofessional screamer. At least my testimony was signed. I was told that I had no right to have a copy. I regret to say that the ambassador was right in 1981. He is still right. ‘Something is very rotten in the state of Denmark.’ Unless clientelism is destroyed, the problem will continue, and the Greek people will forget who they should be. Good public relations begins at home. William Mallinson, Athens, 21 February 2017 Copyright Dr. William Mallinson

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