Thursday, June 23, 2005 

Murky Math

It's getting to the point where I'm almost afraid to read Greek news anymore. Every single day, a new payout scheme to some organization or other is approved by the government. If I lived in a country the size of Canada with huge natural resources or in a country like Germany with its huge manufacturing base, I might not be so worried. But this is Greece...11 million people burdened with a huge trade deficit, a huge national debt and rampant corruption. I used to feel like the proverbial axe was about to fall. Now I'm just counting the axes.

The latest axe is that of the IKA health & pension fund.

Chairman of the fund, Ioannis Vartholomaios, has stated that the implementation of the bank pension reforms under the Reppas law will cost IKA 9 billion€.
He further states that IKA's finances are in fine form with a surplus of 150 million€ to be expected this year. Government spokesperson Thodoros Rousopoulos also states that "the IKA pension is guaranteed by the Constitution". Just because it's guaranteed on a piece of paper, does not mean that there will actually be money to cover these costs especially when the Greek state, itself, owes the fund more than 3.9 billion. (Sept. 11, 2004) How does Vartholomaios consider his fund to be in "fine form" when his biggest contributor is also his biggest liability? It seems only Vartholomaios believes his sugar-coated lies regarding the fund's financial stability. Report after report from the EU, OECD and Greek economists have been warning of a major financial collapse in the next 15 years.

And mere months ago, Finance minister, Alogoskoufis submitted Greece's budget to bring it's debt within the EU Growth & Stability Pact's 3% limit by 2006. I'm not an economist by any stretch of the imagination but surely, it's quite obvious that a country this small cannot afford to be burdened with such high payouts. Here's a quick rundown of some of them:

And that list is probably just the tip of the iceberg with regards to Greece's financial obligations. There's probably a lot more to add to it that isn't even making the news. How does the government plan to find the money for all these commitments? With the state of Greek taxpayers' salaries, there's just no way we can afford it all. However, I doubt that this fact will do much to prevent the attempt to make us pay for their murky math.

Proof of that statement can be found in OTE's chairman, Panagis Vourloumis, declaration (aired last night on Greek news) that many of the large phone bill debts owed by Parliament MPs were written off on his authority because OTE had a profit anyway. Their debts were paid off by the Greek people. He had no right to do it. His "let them eat cake" attitude is sickening but it's a prime example of the attitude also prevalent in the echelons of government. Maybe it's time for the Greek taxpaying citizen to join the ranks of the rest of the strikes currently choking this nation.

Sunday, June 19, 2005 

Desperate Househusbands

Are you a wife who finds herself always complaining about the thankless task of housework? Do you wish you had just a little bit more help around the house from your spouse? Well, I have the answer for you. Move to Spain.

Yes, that's right ladies. A new law to be passed this summer in Spain will require all newlywed husbands to share 50% of the household chores and the care of family members.

It's common knowledge that wives, around the world, do more than their fair share of housework but is a law really necessary to get men to help out? Although it's admirable that MPs recognize how much work working wives do around the house after they leave their full time jobs, I really don't see how a law will have any effect on the husbands' contribution to the housework.

How will the state actually enforce the law? How do you prove that your husband is not doing 50% of the you take a picture of him napping on the sofa? What if the woman doesn't even have a job, is it right for her to expect her husband who works full time to clean the house, iron the clothes and cook the meals?

I believe the answer is not to be found in a law but in women's choice of spouses. If you've already chosen your spouse and he still won't help around the house then you can do what I did...hire a maid and make him pay for her out of his salary to fulfill his household obligations. If husbands complain about it (like mine did in the beginning) then you can justify the expense using the following explanation: If men expect women to take care of typically "female" chores ...chefs, housemaids and interior decorators, then women have the right to expect men to be able to handle typically male maintenance, plumbing and electrical work inside the house without calling a plumber, mechanic or electrician every time the dishwasher breaks down, the car needs an oil change or a light fixture needs replacement. If your husband doesn't do all or any of these functions then he has no right to deny you the services of housemaid.

Still don't think you can get your husband to help you without a law? Then all I can offer you are my condolences.

Saturday, June 11, 2005 

Seek and Ye Shall Find

Last week, Athens was overflowing with garbage. Ano Liossia mayor, Nikos Papadimas and his constituents protested the dumping of sludge at his municipality's landfill site and blocked access to any more garbage being dumped there. He gave PM Karamanlis quite the headache as the garbage in Athens kept piling up and Papadimas refused to back down. Finally, the public prosecutor intervened and some sort of agreement was reached to allow the removal of the garbage from Athens streets. Papadimas again threatened to block the landfill site unless a permanent solution was reached. He was proving to be the thorn in Karamanlis' substantial backside for the rest of the summer and Karamanlis needed to resolve it quickly.

Now, for all of you who might think diplomacy, political prowess or even an environmentally acceptable and comprehensive backup plan would be the solution, you would be wrong. Strongarm tactics work much better it seems. So it comes as no surprise that when the Public Administration Inspector's Agency was unleashed to tackle anti-corruption, their biggest fish to fry turned out to be none other than the mayor of Ano Liossia himself. What perfect timing. He is now being investigated for missing funds totalling 53.7 million euros from his municiaplity's coffers ... 9 million of which he personally withdrew himself.

That ought to shut him up for awhile so Karamanlis can get on with his summer vacation without any more garbage headaches.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005 

Platinum Parachutes

It looks as if Karamanlis has finally found a scheme to rid the country of several thousand unneccessary public sector employees. Last week, the Greek telecom monstronsity, OTE, with the approval of the union and the government, announced that it was going to give 6,000 of its employee an early retirement package. But before the applause starts, let me tell you how much it's going to cost...1.537 BILLION EUROS!! That's more than most western countries' aid packages to Africa! To put this number in perspective, this means that each employee, on average, will receive 250,000 euros in the form of a lump sum bonus, pension fund contributions and their yearly salary had they stayed till retirement. Other public sector employees around the world have been the beneficiaries of Early Retirement Incentive Programs, but to my knowledge, none as lucrative as this one. In 1995, the federal government of Canada planned to lay off 45,000 federal employees at a cost of about $1 billionCDN.

And this country, already up to its ears in debt, saw fit to give a platinum parachute to 6,000 employees who were never needed in the first place. That's about 30% of OTE's 16,000 member workforce. According to some sources, 1.2 billion of this sum will come straight out guessed it...taxpayers' pockets. No matter how OTE tries to spin this one, using the flawed logic of cost savings amortized over time from lower salary overhead, the brunt of the payout will primarily be borne out by the good citizens of Greece. I'm sure I'll be blogging the acquisition of 6,000 new jobs to be available to recent graduates of IT colleges and computer studies in the not-too-distant future since OTE's success rate at getting Greeks online is abysmal at best.

What are the chances any of this money will find its way back into the local economies? Next to none. These employees will most likely buy new retirement homes and/or settle their outstanding debts. A few might want to start new businesses but given the fact that they basically did nothing at their jobs when they showed up for work at OTE, I don't hold out much hope for them to be able to run viable businesses employing others.

The ONLY up-side to this is that the days of jobs-for-life are over and all new hirings will be subject to private sector labour standards. There is also the possibility that next up on the chopping block will be civil service jobs. If the price tag will be as high as the OTE deal, Greece may very well find itself on the auction block.