Gregory D. Dimitriadis *
Even though we have entered the third decade of the 21st century, an era characterized by rapid transformation across multiple domains (digital, artificial intelligence, proliferation of space exploration to name a few), there are still aspects of modern Greek reality which can mystify the casual observer. To some extent, these can also account for the country’s unacceptable (despite the progress made) previous standstill. In fact, such unpleasant aspects of reality often manage to take by surprise not only rationally minded foreign visitors but even ourselves.
Allow me to cite two recent examples, one of which has a personal connotation as it relates to my first visit to the premises of the Hellenic Corporation of Assets and Participations (HCAP), before assuming my duties as the new CEO. Much to my astonishment, the company headquarters carried no signage whatsoever. There was no door sign, not even the company’s logo, if only to indicate the floor where the offices are located.
To some it might seem trivial, but it is not. HCAP is not a phantom company. By law, it is the manager of Greek state-owned assets and national property with a statutory obligation to develop and increase their value. The lack of any kind of signage in the venue, possibly masks underlying guilt regarding its establishment. This is unsubstantiated and incomprehensible. The establishment of HCAP in 2016, just a few years before the 200th anniversary of the Revolution of 1821, was a real breakthrough.
In fact, it is my deep conviction that this should have happened a long time ago by our own initiative; indeed this is underlined by the very nature of the mission of HCAP and it is inextricably linked to the country’s prosperity and economic development. The sole shareholder of HCAP is the Ministry of Finance. Its mission is to support the national economy and promote social prosperity through investment and delivering high quality services and products. Furthermore, HCAP is boosting the country’s credibility abroad, while contributing to the reduction of the public debt. Coming back to the omission of the signage: it will be rectified. A sign with the company logo will be posted.
The second example relates to the timing of my appointment as CEO in HCAP which coincided with hazardous weather conditions, namely heavy snowfall in the Attica region. This caused serious disruption of services and confusion regarding the allocation of responsibilities between State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs) and the local government. The effective and efficient operation of all SOEs is the obligation and responsibility of HCAP, described explicitly in its mission statement. That is, maximizing the SOEs’ comparative advantages, continuously improving the services offered to the Greek citizens and protecting the public interest. This obligation represents a commitment to myself and my colleagues; an obligation to be achieved in close cooperation with the SOEs management teams.
The country has lost valuable time when it comes to public asset management with significant negative consequences in terms of economic growth. However, a new page is turned and now it is up to us, each in their own area of responsibility, to make up for the lost time and drive the country forward. It is a “conditio sine qua non” to serve the public interest and to reject outdated perceptions. After all, many countries, such as France (2004), Italy (2011), Portugal (2000), Norway (1967), New Zealand (2001), the United Arab Emirates (1976) and so on, have set up sovereign wealth funds to manage and develop state-owned assets. At the same time, we have to adopt modern forms of corporate governance that have proven to foster economic and social benefit.
Maximizing the value of state-owned assets is a feasible goal; we shall work towards it with consistency by implementing transparency, accountability and corporate governance principles. Judging by my discussions with the SOEs’ management teams, I am optimistic for the future.
* Gregory D. Dimitriadis is the CEO of the Hellenic Corporation of Assets and Participations S.A.