Ladies and Gentlemen,
Today, local and regional authorities in Greece are invited to play a crucial role at two levels.
To contribute, through their reform, to a new merit-based and transparent model of public administration, delivering high standard of services.
To act as a focal point for economic growth so as to ensure social prosperity and cohesion.
This is the context in which the regional authorities, our Regions, must operate.
They will thus fulfil their crucial role, as decisive factors for democracy and stability, as described last October during the 29th plenary session of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe.
Such a role is also outlined in the European Charter of Local Self-Government, which was ratified by our country in September 1989 and was formally put in force since January 1990, yet, admittedly, minimum essential steps have been taken towards its implementation, despite all resonant political declarations and both reform attempts i.e. — "Kapodistrias" and "Kallikratis" Laws.
The situation in the regions is far from meeting the requirements of a modern, efficient, unbureaucratic public administration at the service of citizens and businesses.
Are regions able today to play the role that is assigned to them under "Kallikratis Law"? I.e. to design, plan and implement policies at regional level, in accordance with Article 3 of the said law?
What is more, are they able to defend public interest and to implement regional development plans in the light of the principles of transparency and effectiveness laid down in the Article 159?
Can our regions assert effective European funding in order to run new NSRF type' ambitious programmes, while satisfying the 'social cohesion' conditions as set out by the European Commission? I am referring to the relevant conditionalities...
Do regions dispose of the appropriate institutional tools?
Are they sufficiently shielded against the central government?
Do regions operate on the basis of a constitutionally guaranteed autonomy?
The answer is no.
The paradox lies in the fact that, it is the legislative framework, i.e. "Kallikratis" Law, to be largely held responsible for this situation.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We are now faced with a situation that has been developed in recent years on the basis of a perverse model of functioning of the public administration.
This model has its basis in bureaucracy and clientelism, thus suppressing any initiative taken by public officials, while emphasising formalism.
It is a counterproductive model, to the detriment of effectiveness and citizens as a whole.
This model downgrades the role of public administration, by downgrading and undermining the regional authorities, therefore discrediting their functions.
Indeed, this impairment under the current legal framework imposes successive bureaucratic controls, hinders any development perspectives, while maintaining control of the elected regional authorities by a decentralized administration which has been appointed by the central government.
On the same basis, that of depreciation and lack of credibility, there is a pronounced perpetuation of excessive legislation and overlapping competences, as well as decrease in financial resources for the Regions, while increase in the regional competences.
Therefore, the upgrading of the elected regional authorities is to be achieved through the necessary human and material resources, to ensure appropriate functioning of the Regions.
The issue of devolving payroll to the Regions, has brought that debate to public attention once again. Unfortunately the absurdity becomes apparent.
On the one hand there is the will to strengthen the self-administration of local and regional authorities, by devolving the regional and local employees' payroll from the central government to the local and regional authorities.
On the other hand, local and regional authorities are prevented from hiring new staff to meet the needs of citizens.
It should be noted that the Region of Attica, with its 2.220 employees, must respond to the needs of 4 millions of citizens! I am referring to the recruitments made by the central administration or its management bodies. We are referring to the administrative bodies which offer immediate service and support to citizens and businesses.
Therefore, it is not the payroll that is at stake but the reliable functioning of public administration.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In order for the Regions to be democratized and upgraded it is necessary to reform the legal framework of "Kallikratis" Law.
It is now clear that this particular framework not only lacks sufficiency but also prevents the Regions from being factors of growth and prosperity, so much needed by our country in the current circumstances.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me ask you the following question: Do you exercise your responsibilities with great flexibility, in the absence of red tape, with just an ex-ante control of your activities, even without being hindered by the central government or the excessive legislation?
In other words, do you govern in a sound and efficient way, on the terms that you would like?
I am convinced that the answer is no. And it does not seem to me that this matter only concerns the Region of Attica.
Let us take a concrete example to see how "Kallikratis" Law actually undermines any development perspectives for the Regions under the pretext of assessing their legality.
The case of a conclusion of a contract with a budget of more than EUR 200.000 is typical. Without VAT for those who know...
Conclusion of a public contract involves prior approval by the Executive Committee, i.e. the ones who table the regional budget before the Economic Committee.
The later is called to adopt the relevant expenditure, upon feasibility approval by the Regional Council.
As far as control is concerned, the Court of Audit must examine the call for proposals, the tenders, the draft contract — a procedure requiring 1, in the unlikely event, to 5-6 months.
Then it is the turn of the Decentralised Administration who must review our Council's decision. I might mention in passing, that the Decentralised Administration usually requires all the relevant supporting documents already submitted before the Court of Audit.
Finally, the National Audit Office, usually requests once again the same supporting documents already checked by the Court of Audit and the Decentralised Administration.
The aforementioned three levels of control were put in force within the framework of "Kallikratis" Law, in favour of sustainable development!
In the same context, when it comes to Tourism, the abovementioned Law provides little for it!
In more specific terms, the only reference made by the "Kallikratis" Law on tourism, is on Article 186, indent 19, section D on employment, trade and tourism (19. To prepare programmes for tourism planning and for tourism development as well as promotion of the Region, in cooperation with the National Tourism Organization and the municipalities of the Region).
Therefore, as interpreted by the aforementioned Article, the Region does not have any competence in relation to tourism. And I would like that to be written in the minutes.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
While the "Kallikratis" Law provides a barrier to the development of the Regions, it also perpetuates the model of the State acting as national/central audit body for the regional authorities, through the Decentralised Administration.
There is therefore a need for a radical review of the role and the responsibilities of the Decentralised Administration in order for Greece to align with the principles of the European Charter of Local Self-Government and also to enable the regions to play an effective role in modern and appropriate multi-level governance.
This is not the only reform to be sought in order to strengthen the operation of the regional authorities.
We must put an end to any overlaps of responsibility, an unacceptable situation both in theory and in practice, as it affects the daily life of the citizens.
Indeed, this situation is due to the inappropriate functioning of public administration which is never held accountable, nor does it assume the costs for any liability...
The results are now there to see: malfunction, inefficiency, absence of transparency, lack of social accountability. In other words: an unreliable administration vis-à-vis the citizens.
The case of gardening and maintenance of green spaces along Spyros Louis Street, in front of the Olympic Stadium in Athens, proves my point.
The situation is as follows:
If a green space is on the pavement it falls under the competence of the local authority,
If the green space is on a street island it falls under the competence of the body entrusted with the responsibility of road maintenance.
In case of strong winds resulting in the accumulation of leaves on the wells, the situation becomes even more complicated, as it involves the Public Power Corporation S.A. (DEI), or, the Hellenic Telecommunications Organization S.A.(COSMOTE) in case of the existence of underground utility networks. This might also implicate a Ministry as well.
Therefore, the Mayor of Maroussi does not deal with Spyros Louis Street as it used to fall under the competence of the Ministry, and so he has a clear conscience on the matter. Even if he receives a document from the Region of Attica regarding the purification and maintenance of green spaces in Maroussi, it will not make any sense, as, according to "Kallikratis" Law the relation between local and regional authorities is cooperative.
The local authority (in this case, Maroussi) might claim that they have competence but they lack resources, thus leaving Spyros Louis Street unmaintained and inevitably associated with a risk to human life.
In this regard, drivers are too little concerned about the "dialogue" between local and regional authorities. They only care about their security, which depends on the maintenance of green spaces along street islands.
Therefore, it is precisely security on this large road artery that the current administrative architecture in our country is unable to guarantee...
This is the reason why immediate action is required to clarify the matter of overlapping responsibilities.
We place particular emphasis on planning, towards fighting against red tape to the benefit of citizens, and improving the functioning of elected local government.
Planning is the only safe way in order to organize matters, instead of just copying with everyday problems.
It is only with planning, with serious, systematic work and with rationality on the basis of fundamental administrative principles, that our regions will meet a double challenge: become drivers of revitalisation of public administration, and contribute to the re-launch of the country's economy.
In this context, acting with the unanimity of the Executive Secretaries, last June, we made an important step towards democratizing the exercise of certain competences, by devolving them from the Decentralized Administrations to the Regions. This is the case for the areas of civil protection, environment and spatial planning, water, technical inspection and protection of natural resources.
This initiative was taken on the basis of fundamental principles of administration, such as the principle of subsidiarity, unity, integration of administrative actions and concentration of administrative work.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The regional authority is faced with a critical challenge: to take its own share of responsibility in order to make the necessary steps towards addressing the situation.
These steps must lead to the architecture of a State administration strategically oriented towards the real needs of society.
This can only be achieved through a new model of local and regional administration enjoying independence and autonomy, as stipulated in the Constitution, where the central government, the local and the regional authorities will cooperate between them within a more decentralised framework.
Such a model would meet the needs and expectations of citizens and society, thereby contributing, through the modernisation and rationalisation of public administration, to the establishment of a genuine mutual trust between public administration and citizens.
"It always seems impossible until it's done", according to the words and the example of Nelson Mandela.