PM: reform of public administration essential
Samaras: need to consult widely on reforms
Prime Minister George Papandreou on Monday emphasised the critical importance of the "Kallikratis" plan for local government, saying this would bring about fundamental and much-needed reforms to public sector administrative structures.
"Today, 100 days after the elections, we are in a position to proceed based on the Kallikratis plan, which will carry out all the major changes that the country's administrative system needs and all the necessary reforms for a new start that local government needs," he said while addressing the annual meeting of the Central Union of Municipalities and Communities of Greece (KEDKE).
According to the Greek premier, the Kallikratis plan was an essential part the Stability, Development and Reconstruction Programme and its success was a "goal of national importance that requires the contribution of all".
Describing the proposed changes as "greatly delayed", Papandreou said they would finally allow Greece to throw off the mantle of the European Union's most centralised state, bringing about long-awaited changes to local government while radically changing the operation of central government at the same time.
He underlined that the changes were urgent, in order to free up human and other resources that were currently being wasted so that they might be more creatively invested, adding that they might be painful but also liberating.
The premier emphasised that ordinary Greek men and women were tired of inertia and wanted to see their elected officials take action to bring about change.
"The starting point and root of the economic, political and institutional crisis the country is experiencing lies in the way that the state operates," he added with emphasis.
According to Papandreou, the Kallikratis plan would result in a new administrative architecture for local authorities that would be simple, functional and stable, leading to powerful and efficient municipalities armed with new powers and resources, and self-administrating regions with important responsibilities, such as handling the regional programmes of the National Strategic Reference Framework.
With local authorities taking charge of their own responsibilities, central government could then fulfill its own role as the executive branch of the state, he added.
The prime minister promised that the new municipal and regional authorities created on January 1, 2011 would be able to operate in a regime of guaranteed meritocracy, transparency and accountability, having as an additional resource the participation of ethnic Greeks and legal migrants that lived in harmony with Greek society and contributed to the progress of the country and local communities.
This, he added, would ensure social peace, social cohesion and give impetus to local developmental and regional prospects.
Main opposition New Democracy (ND) leader Antonis emphasised that his party will avoid a "direct intervention" in local communities, particularly the smaller ones.
Speaking at the annual conference of the Central Union of Municipalities & Communities (KEDKE) Mr Samaras said:
"What we heard from the government is merely a general outline on the situation at hand, yet we detected omissions," he said, charging that any discussion on local administrations' reform and modernisation should first be accompanied by the central government's allocation of 330 million euros it owes local governments from the last three-month period of 2009.
In repeating his high-profile criticism of the government's intention to naturalise certain categories of non-EU migrants in the country -- i.e. second generation children of migrants -- and allocate voting rights to immigrants, Samaras said the government is rushing to give 250,000 migrants voting rights in the upcoming local elections "believing that it will serve petty party expediencies".
The former minister decried what he called "interventions" by the government and called for a wide-ranging discussion on specific criteria and rules governing the granting of citizenship and voting rights to migrants.
In returning to his criticism of the initiative to merge and modern local government entities, dubbed the "Kallikratis" plan, Samaras said the government should clearly spell out its positions ahead of the November local elections and not to create "foregone conclusions".
"If you do not cooperate with the opposition, with KEDKE and ENAE (the union of prefectures); if you decide to proceed with a piecemeal intervention without funding and necessary resources, you will merely undermine the entire endeavour," the ND leader said during the conference, held at the Athens Concert Hall (Megaron).
Among one of his ideas, Samaras cited the possibility of one ballot box for the mayor's race and other for municipal councilors.
"We, in ND, will follow the path of dialogue, fact-based proposals and responsibility. Let the government do the same, as every failure will fall upon its shoulders," he said.
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