Article By Mr. Dimitris Maniatakis Published At “ELEFTHERIA” On Sunday, 21 September 2008

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Will the new "Kapodistrias" solve existing problems or just increase existing ones?

The government is expected to proceed immediately to the implementation of the second phase of the "Kapodistrias" project, i.e. the greatest possible concentration of municipalities and prefectures, aiming to their more efficient operation. Undoubtedly, "Kapodistrias II" will contribute to the decentralization of powers and place greater focus on first and second degree government. It is a very positive measure, adapted to current realities of regional development in the European Union.

Certain questions remain however regarding the organization and methodology for implementing this measure. For example, regarding the methodology for the selection of municipalities, what criteria will be used for selecting the number of municipalities to form the new expanded entity? There are strong concerns that this selection will take place on the basis of geographical units alone, taking implicit interests into account to avoid social conflicts and opposition. Of course the preferences of the directly interested parties should be taken into account, but is this to be the main criterion for such a substantial change in the structure of the modern state? A further question concerns the prospects of the new municipalities for robust self-dependent growth in areas of social services such as networks, health, education and culture. There are quite a few studies, which have been incorporated in the Business Plans for the development of existing municipalities that allow speculation concerning the above self-dependent development. Have these been taken into account?

Our long experience in regional development and the Government, but mainly in private sector development, dictates that the above questions should be answered before the implementation of the "Kapodistrias II". A technocratic selection of new expanded municipalities and prefectures is sure to respond satisfactorily to any questions and speculations of the concerned citizens. Contrariwise, a selection based on political criteria is sure to lead to various adventures, with the corresponding socio-economic costs. The aim of the new expanded Local Government entities should be to maximize the cost / benefits relationship for citizens. This means that, with the lowest cost, the citizen should enjoy the maximum benefit from the municipality or prefecture. Today local government units that provide the maximum benefit are few and far between. Citizens usually visit the public services of the local government in the belief that they are just another cog in the monstrosity of state bureaucracy. This happens most often because the municipality is ineffective, due to its inability to be economically viable in today's reality. We should, therefore, seek to achieve the financial independence of local authorities to find a way to secure the required income level for local authorities.

The creation of financially viable local government units, therefore effective in providing services to citizens, can be achieved through the use of a suitable methodology, infrastructure and, of course if the corresponding will exists. Thus, at this stage of planning the new units, we should strive for a comprehensive approach based on operational analysis and linear programming to maximize the cost / benefit analysis mentioned above. For each new unit, we should also approximately evaluate the potential development of resources for the benefit of the municipality. To this end, we should redefine the flow of revenue for the municipality in order to meet the operational needs of the new municipality and redistribute personnel on the basis of development needs and improved service productivity criteria.

The redistribution of municipal services should take place mainly horizontally rather than vertically; it should, in other words, go down to the level of villages in order to increase services maximally. It should identify the potential of each new municipality in terms of assets and property, in order for this to be exploited for the benefit of citizens, especially in terms of health, education and culture. In theory, these actions are feasible and achievable within a short time if they build on existing business plans.

The new municipalities must be self-dependent, at least as regards their operating costs, to provide comprehensive services to citizens on the basis of decentralised agencies and should ensure the existence of additional resources for redeployment in favour of the citizens. In it only in this way that there can be a prospect for the development of the Greek province with the aim of reducing congestion in Athens and Thessaloniki and the smooth development of the whole country

Dimitris Maniatakis
President, Maniatakeion Foundation