Athens – Almost a month ago, General Secretary for Public Revenue Katerina Savvaidou is terminated from her duties after a unanimous decision of the Greek cabinet on allegations of breach of duty. Savvaidou’s predecessor, Haris Theoharis is said to being forced out on June 2014 by the government for being too aggressive in chasing high-profile tax, even though h e declared he was leaving for “personal reasons”.
Both of them were hired for a position created on the demand of the country’s international lenders, the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB) in what was supposed to be a five-year tenure insulated from political pressure. Theoharis has left without too much explanation, whereas there was a big fuss around Savvaidou’s departure.
Savvaidou had denied any wrongdoing and she was refusing to resign after the insistence of Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos. She was charged by a Greek prosecutor with breach of duty for extending tax collection by about a year on revenues for television advertising. Savvaidou said that the reports were groundless and there had been no issue of legality that would warrant her resignation.
There are serious doubts within the EU whether the government of Alexis Tsipras is indeed determined to proceed with one of the fundamental commitments to implement: the depoliticisation of public administration. How independent is the Greek Public Administration? Charalabos Koutalakis, Assistant Professor of Management Science at the University of Athens answered our questions.
“The depoliticization of public administration has mainly to do with the senior levels’ stuffing, but as well as with the neutrality and the impartiality in the selection of staff. Till recently, the depoliticization of the public administration was not a part of the public dialogue, since there have been significant changes in the staff selection with the introduction of the Supreme Council for Personnel Selection (ASEP) since the mid nineties, although the selection of the top staff positions has always required a political decision”, explains Mr. Koutalakis adding that “in international level, there are two systems in public administration. A one that guarantees full depoliticisation and another one that allows the political leadership to make certain choices. Along with the Secretary Generals like Ms Svvaidou, there are other very important positions like the Administrator of Organizations”.
Why does the Greek state does not wish an independent tax authority?
There has been a long discussion with regards to this matter since the state revenues are the most crucial point in Greece lately. The state’s money collection ability without serving any interests is being constantly tested the last years, that’s why we had two dismissals within two years in the position of General Secretary for Public Revenue. This is “a two sides coin” situation. The Greek political system allows the government to highly intervene in the staff selection, impeding the independent functioning of the authorities which I consider very important. From the other hand, the so-called Independent Authorities are so independent sometimes that can be very difficulty changed. In the Revenues Secretariat the independence and impartiality must be guaranteed, along with the capability of the person selected to collect revenues. The last two General Secretaries were quite specialized. I am afraid that if the lever of specialization will fade, then the degree of neutrality and independence might be questioned. The non-discriminatory procedures for selecting key positions and the stability in public administration should have been implemented since the last 30 years, regardless the country’s obligations emerged by the memorandums.