Corruption debate hits low notes

In a clash reminiscent of past decades when Greece was split into bitter factions, the problem of endemic corruption provoked an explosion of accusations between the government and opposition in Parliament last night. Prime Minister Costas Simitis took the unprecedented step of submitting for the record a book of the late dictator Giorgos Papadopoulos to back his claim that the conservatives had the same ideas as the leader of the 1967-74 junta. New Democracy party leader Costas Karamanlis charged that the PASOK government bred corruption. «The government supported the regime of non-accountability, giving legitimacy to the tangled interests of corruption,» he declared. «Everywhere the citizen goes he finds a hand held out for a bribe, and though those who were accused of corruption used to be ashamed, today they don’t care. You have changed society’s value system,» he charged. Karamanlis noted that elections among the Finance Ministry police and tax inspectors had resulted in PASOK candidates winning 90 percent, implying that they were tools of the government. Karamanlis referred to contracts between the State and companies controlled by tycoon Socrates Kokkalis (whom, as is customary, he did not name but described as «our national purveyor»). Simitis set out his government’s achievements, from Greece’s entry into the eurozone to the breakup of the November 17 terrorist group, and said it was determined to clean up the public sector. «Finance Ministry inspectors investigated 3,211 cases between 1996 and 2000. Of them, 584 were sent to the prosecutor and 132 people were fired and 182 got smaller penalties,» Simitis said. «We are determined to stamp out corruption wherever it is endemic.» But, he added, «All the political forces must work against it… We need everyone’s help.» Karamanlis demanded that Simitis retract his claim that ND was the same as the extreme-right dictatorship. «Retract tonight or this mistake will follow you for all your political days… Correct this blunder,» he said.