by Thomas Sideris
I visited Tuzla, a municipality in İstanbul, a few days ago, to organize a documentary about the population exchange after the Treaty of Lausanne. I had the opportunity to come into contact and talk with several officers and employees of the municipality.
And, really, I was pleasantly surprised.
In Greece, most municipalities are dead. They have no money to pay for the heating in schools, so students are cold. They have no money to maintain the schools, they have no money to clean the streets and they have no money to pay for water bills. In Keratsiniou-Drapetsonas, a municipality of Piraeus, the water has been turned off from schools and kindergartens because the municipality did not pay its bills.
We should not only blame the economic crisis for the situation of municipalities in Greece. For many years, the Greek government has been indifferent towards them and had no control over the mayors. A few days ago, a Greek court sentenced the former mayor of Thessaloniki to life imprisonment, as a group of employees and partners embezzled almost 18 million euros from the funds of the municipality. Even today, when the troika asks for the dismissal of public servants, mayors appoint their voters illegally. So, they put a burden on the municipality budget with salaries of redundant employees. The municipality of Keratsiniou-Drapetsonas recruited 200 volunteers, but paid them as if they were regular employees. While all of these are illegal acts, corruption and waste of public money almost never ends up in court.
At the same time, officials of municipalities in Greece go on frequent strikes for petty reasons. Trade unionists and workers’ unions speak only for their rights, not about how they could be more productive or how they could provide better services to citizens. Even if all the financial problems were solved in a magical way, the Hellenic republic’s municipalities would continue to have the same image. Neither the mayor nor the employees who work in cities have learned to work hard and support the community. The economic crisis in Greece is mainly a humanitarian crisis. People who lose their jobs and incomes end up on the streets, homeless and starving. The municipalities in Greece cannot support poor people, simply because they just can’t.
On the Asian side of İstanbul, in Tuzla, the situation is completely different. Passing the door of the city hall, besides the fact it is a brand new, modern building, one feels absolute calmness. The approximately 250 employees work quietly at their desks. It was Thursday, the day when the mayor, Dr. Sadi Yacizi, sees the residents. Every Thursday he leaves his office and goes down to the ground floor of the building. He takes a seat at the table, next to the eight specialist advisors and deputies, and around them about 300 people. He sees them all, one by one, for as long as necessary, maybe until late at night. What differentiates him from his Greek counterparts is that he will not give any promises. He solves the problem on the spot. He will discuss and examine it there and then with his advisors, who are connected online with the records of the citizens, and they can see their family status, if they get welfare benefits, if social intervention is needed, what have been their previous concerns, etc.
In the field of social welfare, the municipality of Tuzla employs approximately 2,500 volunteers, who offer their services consistently seven days a week. The social service staff regularly visits people who need help and support, and records the progress or deterioration of their problems. The staff also collaborates with other local agencies. The municipality of Tuzla has been a pioneer in this field for another reason, too: It has a multi-purpose center, which, in addition to clothing, collects furniture, toys, household and electrical appliances, as well as anything else useful to the poor and needy. The clothes are washed, ironed and classified on the shelves of the first floor, which looks more like a supermarket rather than a center for the disadvantaged. The poor and destitute will take what they like after trying them on. The municipality’s latest acquisition is 80 second-hand electric wheelchairs, which were purchased at a bargain price from Holland. They will be distributed to people with disabilities within the next few days.