Ex-heavyweight minister now a deadweight

In the end, no one is really to blame, except for some careless pension fund managers. Certainly not good old Savvas. His only mistake, really, is to have, accidentally (of course) hired the wrong person. So Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis would have us believe. Dismissing a minister is no small matter, especially for someone who, like Karamanlis, is notoriously loath to do so. It is hard to accept at face value Karamanlis’s reasoning behind the dismissal of his labor minister hours after reading in Kathimerini’s Greek edition that Savvas Tsitouridis’s aide Evgenios Yiannakopoulos faces an investigation into alleged financial improprieties, namely stock market manipulation. The event by itself would not have been enough to trigger Karamanlis’s ire. Rather, it provided a convenient excuse in getting rid of a minister whose presence had become intolerable to many of his fellow ministers. It is their response, and not the opposition’s, that counted most for Karamanlis. The excuse also provided him with yet another opportunity to pose as the guarantor of transparency and morality in this particular style of his, which his friends find engaging and his detractors insufferably pompous. The issue of the structured bonds is not one that the broad public understands clearly. But at least one fact is clear – that pension funds, especially those who bought the notorious «circulating» bond that went through five different buyers in one day, were taken for a ride. It is not so clear that their managers were taken for a ride as well. They may, or may have not, taken their cut. And some of those profits that fell into the hands of brokers may, or may not, have made it to the ruling party’s coffers. Let us be clear on this issue: An operation of this size cannot have been engineered only by the pension fund managers. The Greek state issued those bonds and backed it with its credit. Thus, at least Deputy Finance Minister Petros Doukas was involved. And, surely, Economy and Finance Minister Giorgos Alogoskoufis knew about it. The above officials cannot have been unaware of the strange sequence of bond acquisitions before the civil service’s supplementary pension fund bought it at an inflated price. To claim otherwise would have been criminal negligence. The alternative, criminal complicity, looks increasingly likely. The government’s spin doctors have tried to convince us that Karamanlis is above all this and that he «gets angry» when he learns of his ministers’ transgressions. The propagandists have made their best efforts to sell the image of a detached prime minister, at the risk of exposing him as lazy, a person who leaves work at about 1-2 p.m. The leader must remain untouchable, while everyone else is expendable. These concerns could be dismissed as pure matters of style. The style, however, has a bearing on policy. Tsitouridis was to have faced, in the likely event of a New Democracy win in the next election, the task of reforming the social security system. His closeness to the PM actually made him the ideal man to push through reforms, provided, of course, Karamanlis wished to stake his reputation on reforms. This appears unlikely, now more than ever.

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