Tuesday 18 June 2013

The ERT Litmus Test

Much has been said and written about the closure of the Greek broadcaster (ERT), the opening of a new, “transparent and axiocratic” one (NERIT), and the need for “reform” over the past week.

Everyone understands that ERT is over-staffed, has seen a “mission creep” in which it developed repetitive functions and invested in questionable assets and activities, and is corrupt, in that high salaries and questionable procurement contracts have been given to undeserving political appointees over decades. 

Moreover, everyone understands that these same problems are emblematic of the wider Greek public sector. Ironically, there is not a single Greek politician of any ideological stripe who has not condemned waste, corruption, nepotism, and a clientistic public sector. And yet both major parties (PASOK and ND) have looted the Greek public sector in the same manner. 

What Greek citizens and taxpayers (and their creditors) are waiting to see is whether this will change.

With the closing of ERT and the opening of NERIT, the Greek political system has a chance to put its heaving rhetoric into practise.

An external observer will be able to test the politicians by monitoring four simple issues:

a.     Who will Mr. Venizelos and Mr. Kouvelis appoint to lead ERT until NERIT is launched? Will this be a party hack with no relevant experience? Or will it be someone qualified to shape the difficult closure and liquidation fairly and transparently, and assure the launch of NERIT?

b.     What terms of reference will be granted to the European public broadcaster that will be hired to draft the NERIT strategic and operating plan? Will the broadcaster be given the resources and time to engage in a proper consultation, or will this be a “copy-paste” project like so many others? Will the recommendations be implemented in practise, e.g. in drafting the new NERIT law? Or will they, like so many other recommendations, collect dust on a shelf somewhere?

c.     What will be done to safeguard ERT's assets? Will asset stripping occur, as has occurred with so many other public organisations, or will a fair sales value be achieved? What steps will ERT/NERIT take to properly register and value all assets and record all transactions, e.g. on the internet, so that the public can see that fair value has been achieved?

d.     Who will New Democracy, PASOK and DIMAR appoint to the new Governing Council of NERIT once it is ready for operation? Will these be “new people”, or will they be the tired, mediocre faces of old who already pollute the Greek public sector, and who have characterised this coalition’s choices to date?

So far, the government has gotten the process and the politics of restructuring ERT wrong. Theoretically, they now have the chance to correct it. The next step is to see whether this correction occurs, and if the right people are appointed to lead it.

Somehow, I wouldn’t like to bet on that outcome.

© Philip Ammerman, 2013

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