Taking a Bite Out of Corruption
In its drive for transparency in the public sector, the government is(again) launching a crackdown on bribes, dirty-dealings, kickbacks and serious mismanagement
BY KATHY TZILIVAKIS
Frustrated, discouraged, infuriated? The government is finally out to get crooked civil servants who prey on unsuspecting citizens
SINGLED out as the EU champ of corruption, Greece is trying to put its infamous moniker behind. Hauling new, tougher legislation, Interior Minister Costas Skandalidis says he is determined to break the back of this pandemic.
At the recent launch of the Public Administration Inspectors' Body, Skandalidis vowed to fight corruption and instil the public with trust in the state. To achieve this, he appointed the president of the Data Protection Authority, Constantinos Dafermos, as the new inspector general of public administration. Dafermos' rather ambitious task is to serve as a citizens' rights watchdog against corruption in the public sector.
One of these cases refers to the on-the-spot issuing of driver's licenses. Another case involves reports that applications submitted to the land registrar were processed faster if employees were financially swayed into doing so. Remaining cases involved the award of building permits and allowing illegal constructions to pass inspections.
"The government is determined to fight corruption," Skandalidis told reporters shortly before the holidays adding that he had placed a "personal bet" to win the fight against bribery and other dirty-dealings in the public sector. "Be patient because very soon we will have the first concrete results," he added.
In a similar vein, Kroustallakis stressed this effort is "not only words" but that their ambitious goal is "to create a reality all Greeks want".
The government's crusade against corruption is not new. In November 2000, Skandalidis' predecessor Vasso Papandreou (now development minister) vowed to crackdown on widespread civil service corruption. Prime Minister Costas Simitis has also personally congratulated an orthopaedic specialist for going to authorities when his superior requested 2 million drs (5,870 euros) to approve his application for a job transfer to the Social Insurance Foundation (IKA) branch in Corinth. The bribe was reportedly demanded to secure the transfer.
"I invited Mr Stamatakis to my office today because I want to congratulate him on his courage to report those who insisted on a bribe so that he could secure the IKA post," Simitis told reporters after his meeting with the "courageous" doctor in November 2000. The prime minister called on citizens to come forward. "The state and the government is on your side," the PM said.
Under the table
Only one in every 10 Greeks believes the public sector is free of widespread bribery and shady dealings, according to a survey conducted by Kappa Research in January 2001. The poll also found that about 40 percent of Greeks have witnessed corruption at least once. A glance at past surveys suggests it is on the rise. The findings of a study conducted by the Opinion research company in 2000 showed just 60 percent of respondents believed "much corruption" is found in the public sector.
Surveys also show that the health sector is the shadiest of all. The so-called fakelaki is a prime example. This cash "gift" for the doctor before an operation or medical treatment is thought to guarantee the best possible care for a patient and a nicer room at public hospitals.
In the same fashion, an under-the-table payment of several hundred euros is enough to be issued a driver's license without taking the test. The construction business is also riddled with bribes and kickbacks. Architects, builders and employees at town planning offices all need "hurry-up" fees to issue permits without delay. These fees can be as high as 1,000 euros.
Corruption is also rife at the tax office. Economy Minister Nikos Christodoulakis announced on January 7 that 80 tax collectors have been suspended on suspicion of accepting bribes and other perks. In view of the government's crackdown on crooked dealings, Christodoulakis also unveiled 25 new measures to confront this phenomenon at tax offices across the country. These include boosting inspections, conducting a new series of "routine" checks and implementing a new framework for disciplinary authorities to bring cases to court. Meanwhile, a recent report by the Council of Europe's Group of States Against Corruption (GRECO) finds the allocation and distribution of EU funds is the most corruption-plagued area in Greece.
Greece holds the worst position among European countries regarding the perception of how corrupt the country is, according to Transparency International (TI) in Greece, a branch of the Berlin-based coalition campaigning since 1993 against bribery and corruption.
"We are pleased that the government is starting to sink its teeth into this very serious matter," Virginia Tsouderou, the president of TI in Greece, told the Athens News. "And we will carefully examine the measures the government is going to take. They must be specific. Generalities are not enough to solve this problem, which for us is the number one issue facing this country. There is an urgent need for institutional changes and measures that will ensure these changes will be implemented." According to TI's Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) for 2002, which ranked 102 countries, Greece is one of 71 countries that scored less than five out of a clean score of 10. Scoring 4.2 and ranking 44th in the index, Greece is last among EU members. The next "naughty" member state is Italy in 31st place with 5.2 points. Finland tops the list with 9.7, Bangladesh comes last with 1.2. Greece scored the same in 2001 and was in 42nd place.
"I can only hope Greeks' sense of pride will soon be brought into play to change this distressing situation," said Tsouderou. "But I'm afraid that corruption seems to be accepted by people, who believe that nothing can change because those who govern this country have made corruption a way of life." In related news, Greece ratified the EU's Civil Law Convention on Corruption in February. Based on this treaty, corruption is defined as any request, offer, giving or accepting, directly or indirectly, a bribe or any other undue advantage or prospect thereof which distorts the proper performance of any duty or behaviour required of the recipient of the bribe, the undue advantage or the prospect thereof.
Its purpose: "Each party shall provide in its internal law for effective remedies for persons who have suffered damage as a result of acts of corruption, to enable them to defend their rights and interests, including the possibility of obtaining compensation for damage".
ATHENS NEWS , 10/01/2003, page: A05
Article code: C12996A051