The Paleokrassas affair showed serious gov’t shortcomings

The prime minister and his minister of economy and finance must have let out a sigh of relief after the press briefing by the former head of the Public Power Corporation (PPC), Yiannis Paleokrassas, on Monday. He refrained from implicating any government official in his allegations of scandal in the corporation from which he resigned last week. On the contrary, he said he still considered Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis as the leader of the drive against corruption. But the government had better not believe that the matter, which Paleokrassas opened in his interview with Kathimerini on November 27, is now closed. For it brought to the fore two huge problems that are of concern and are being widely discussed at all levels of society. And the comments are all negative for the government. The first and most important problem is that despite the integrity at the top of the government, kickbacks in the big deals in public organizations continue to be the norm. From the seven scandalous cases at PPC which Paleokrassas sent to a public prosecutor, to other public project contracts and procurements by utilities, it emerges that the winners of the contracts are always the same. The second problem emerges from the question of what the government is doing to stop the plundering of public money by the big interests. The government’s standard response – that it refers any documented case to justice – apart from being identical to that of its predecessors, conceals the fact that graft is a political and economic, rather than penal, problem. And it is not going to stop with any trials. Its omnipotency is primarily deduced from the fact that no matter which government is in power, it is the same business groups which always win the contracts, be they by public tender or direct assignment. Furthermore, it is obvious that foreign groups do not participate in the tenders by themselves because they know that their bids will not stand a chance. Therefore, if the government wants to do something about large-scale graft, it must effectively open the bidding processes to foreigners. It’s the only guarantee. But to return to the Paleokrassas case, the government’s handling of it was not just clumsy and frivolous, we might go as far as to say that it was provocative, in the sense that the prime minister did not intervene in time before the matter took explosive dimensions. The government’s major mistake was that although Paleokrassas was a prominent party personality, having repeatedly served as a senior minister in the past, he was not accorded the respect due to him. His appointment as PPC president was not accompanied by the full range of the responsibilities of the post and he was limited to the role of second fiddle, unlike other prominent members of the party’s «old guard» who have been put in charge of other utilities. The way he was treated was demeaning and proves they did not really want him. So, why didn’t they replace him the moment the first disputes with the first fiddle, Managing Director Stergios Nezis, arose? If nothing else, such mistakes suggest that the government does not govern.