Technical assistance to help countries in crisis such as Greece should focus on sustainable reforms and on helping business continuity by strengthening national administrations, according to the European Court of Auditors. In a new report on the Task Force for Greece set up in 2011 by the European Commission, the auditors recommend that, in future, such bodies should be based on a strategy with well-defined objectives, while the assistance should be prioritised and focused.
The Task Force focused on reforming public administration in Greece, improving the tax system and bringing about a return to growth by fostering its business environment. The auditors examined whether it had fulfilled its mandate and whether the assistance had made an effective contribution to reform. They obtained evidence from the Commission, service providers, Greek government departments and other stakeholders.
“Although the Task Force proved itself as a mechanism for delivering complex technical assistance, there were weaknesses in the design of some projects and only mixed results in terms of influence on the progress of reform,” said Mr Baudilio Tomé Muguruza, the Member of the European Court of Auditors responsible for the report.
Technical assistance was delivered to the Greek authorities in accordance with the mandate, but it did not always advance the reforms sufficiently, say the auditors, while noting that their assessment has to be seen in the context of the volatile political situation in Greece. The need for urgency meant that the Task Force was set up very rapidly, without a full analysis of other options or a dedicated budget. It had no single comprehensive strategic document for delivering assistance or for deciding priorities.
The delivery of assistance was relevant and broadly in line with the programme requirements, and the Task Force developed a flexible and diversified system for delivery. However, there were weaknesses at project level: procedures to select service providers were not always based on a thorough analysis of the available alternatives, and some long-term assistance contracts did not clearly state what they were expected to deliver.
The system for monitoring progress was effective, but the breadth of checks on external providers was highly variable, say the auditors. Moreover, it did not systematically monitor how the Greek authorities followed up recommendations or the broader impacts of the assistance.
The impact on the progress of reform was mixed, since implementation was beyond the Task Force’s control and subject to external factors. Progress on structural spending was good, but only partially effective in public administration and taxation reform.