Anti-corruption drive a major challenge for next Greek government

3rd October 2009, Comments 0 comments

Since 2004 a string of scandals have dogged the Greek government, culminating in what looks like will be an election loss for the ruling conservative party this Sunday.

Athens -- Ridding Greece of pervasive corruption will be a major challenge for its next government after eroding the authority of the outgoing conservative administration and its socialist predecessor.

Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis "snared himself by creating ethical expectations he was unable to meet after making the fight against corruption his pet theme to oust the Socialists," Vassiliki Georgiadou, who teaches political science at Athens University, told AFP.

Many analysts agree that Karamanlis' downfall began in September 2008, only a year after his re-election, with one ethics scandal too many: a property deal with an influential monastery of the Mount Athos peninsula which has cultivated close links with prominent conservatives, including government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos, a trusted aide of Karamanlis.

Since 2004 the string of scandals, also involving pension funds and illegal construction sites, has led to the resignation of four ministers and half a dozen conservative party officials, apart from Roussopoulos.

Courts have so far failed to hand down any sentences but some of those implicated remain feisty.

"What is legal is moral," former merchant marine minister George Voulgarakis said when faced with questions about offshore accounts unknown to Greek tax authorities.

In a bid to salvage their one-seat majority in parliament Karamanlis' conservative deputies voted in May against lifting the immunity of another former minister suspected of graft.

But four months later Karamanlis moved to call early elections for October 4 even though opinion polls give the opposition socialists a lead of between five and seven percent.

Socialist PASOK leader George Papandreou, a former foreign minister, in turn, is focussing his campaign on graft-busting measures pledging transparency in public finances by remedying the insufficient computerisation of government agencies.

Papandreou believes that such transparent management will also bring down Greece's staggering state deficit.

"Within five years, the debt rose by 100 billion euros .... This money ended up in the pockets of those close to the (governing) party, from bribes to corruption," he said during a televised debate.

"Corruption is costing the country a lot, if not too much in the current crisis," former liberal finance minister Stephanos Manos told AFP. "The next government should not lose a minute to deal with this problem."

"The Siemens affair is revealing," he added.

"Greece is the only country which has not prosecuted anybody, neither those who corrupted nor those who let themselves be corrupted, when the German group admitted to paying more than 100 million euros in slush money to politicians of both sides."

In Greece, bribes are used to obtain permits to build on scorched forestland, win public contracts or getting better treatment in hospitals.

Widespread cronyism and nepotism are the flipside of the coin with its entailing partisan administration and poor service.

"Corruption is a structural feature of our society," argued political scientist Georgiadou. "It is tolerated by many people because with the state being what it is recourse to illegal means seems legitimate in the end."

But she believes that the system has reached its limits. Said Georgiadou: "Politicians must act to find a way out of this dead end."

Catherine Boitard/AFP/Expatica

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