Greece should hire a new Deputy Minister of Commerce

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At a time when Greek incomes have been slashed by the recession, the average consumer is faced with inflated consumer product pricing, and yet no one in the Greek government has been officially assigned to handle this critical portfolio. The expected cabinet reshuffle should have included the introduction of a new post for a Deputy Minister of Commerce to deal with this pressing issue the Greek public faces daily.

The current Minister for Development, Competitiveness and Infrastructure, Kostis Chatzidakis has taken upon himself a heavy burden. His portfolio ranges from attracting investments – to key infrastructure projects like new highways. It is logical that he focuses on these larger policy issues with the hope of positive developments to change the climate and gain a notch on his belt of political influence.

But the real crunch of the recession is felt by Greek households today in the neighborhood supermarkets and fruit and vegetable stands. This is an area the government’s has failed to confront.

Greek household incomes have been slashed from 20% to 50%, and yet no one has seriously looked at the issues the consumer faces daily. In Greece, prices on the supermarket shelves are higher than the equivalent in Germany.

A healthy marketplace does not function in a paradoxical let alone a magical manner. It works when it is a open competitive market that bides to certain rules of enterprise. Someone in the government must ensure that the rules and regulations are respected and obeyed. At the moment, “no one is minding the store” there is no one in the current cabinet that does this job at all. In light of the much debated and much awaited cabinet reshuffle it is paramount to find someone for this position.

This cabinet minister must be have street-smarts, not be from the comforts of wealthy ivory towers. Their resume should include work in the private sector so they know the ins and outs of struggling for a minimum wage and understand the average consumer’s increasing stress when they see prices rising out of control.

This person must know when to be diplomatic but also know how to chastise, as well as have the ability to handle the media – especially the TV channels that play on both sides of consumer prices debate. Greek television channel have selective memory and “remember” or “forget” the issue of runaway prices according to which active advertising campaigns they have. The new Deputy Minister needs to know the local media from the inside.

However, even the new minister had all these qualities- it still wouldn’t be enough. This minister would have to “surprise visit” supermarkets accompanied by only one associate and no cameras. They would have to confront the manager of the store and holding in hand one a pack of those “specially offered” three pack products with a bonus pack, and ask why a single product in the pack isn’t sold to the consumer individually at the lower price. They should ask why the supermarket doesn’t allow the manufacture’s discounts to reach the consumers? And if the answers don’t persuade, close the store down and also issue them a fine.

The chief aim of this new Deputy Minister for Commerce is to take the bull by the horns and not become trapped in false ideologies like “market self-regulation.” The experience of recent years has proven that in the Greek market self-regulation is a “one way street” that serves supply and not demand – retailers not consumers.

Will the Prime Minister Antonis Samaras appoint such a Deputy Minister?

Undoubtedly, now that the saga of securing the bailout aid tranche from lenders has been finalized to some extent, the focus of the political agenda for a long time will focus on “domestic” issues. For communication purposes alone Prime Minister Samaras must be seen as someone who supports the interests of the average person on the street. He refuses to do that with the Troika lenders (EU-IMF), he can’t do it with the local banks, so how else can he possibly command the Greek society?

PS. Having no one specifically in mind for this role, it is essential the Prime Minister does.

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