NEWS

PASOK MPs to be ‘audited’

In a two-pronged attack on corruption in political life, Prime Minister Costas Simitis yesterday announced draconian measures for the ruling PASOK party, saying all its members of Parliament since 1990 would have to undergo a full accounting of their finances while those who invested on the Athens Stock Exchange in 1998-2000 would have all their dealings audited. In a broader step, Simitis proposed the breakup of large electoral districts, arguing that parliamentary candidates had a hard time reaching voters in such constituencies and the consequent need for funds made them susceptible to other interests. These measures followed an embarrassing few months for Simitis, in which two ministers and a senior PASOK official resigned from their posts amid allegations that they were too close to business interests and had played large amounts of money on the stock exchange. Although no one was found to have committed a crime, the claims raised questions of propriety and led to yesterday’s proposals. After a Cabinet meeting lasting nearly five hours, Simitis announced the radical measures, and challenged other parties to follow suit. «The political world cannot allow suspicion to hang in the air, but nor can the people in politics be left open to slander,» Simitis said. «We all have a duty to protect both transparency and the honor of our political system. We must not allow everyone involved in public life to become the prey of party political expediencies,» he added. «The government has today proposed a series of measures aimed at increasing transparency and improving the functioning of the political system.» Simitis said that from now on, all people involved in public life, including state officials and employees as well as members of Parliament, will be submitted to scrutiny of their assets and the way in which they were acquired, with comparisons of their assets in previous years. «Parliament’s oversight committee will have more means and personnel at its disposal to conduct these inspections faster – definitely before the next elections,» Simitis said. Elections are due by next spring and the prime minister last week shook up PASOK’s leadership and reshuffled his Cabinet, in the first steps of a campaign to close the gap with the New Democracy party which is leading in the polls by about 8 percent. The anti-corruption crusade was the second major step. Every PASOK MP who invested on the bourse, Simitis said, «will be scrutinized with regard to stock trades in the period 1998-2000.» He added: «Every MP and minister will declare to the speaker of Parliament the capital that he (or she) and his (or her) spouse invested these three years as well as the profit or loss at the end of each year. These declarations will be handed over to the Capital Market Commission for verification. The results of the process will be made known to the (parliamentary) oversight committee on assets and their sources.» Simitis added that the ban on government members investing on the stock exchange, with the exception of mutual funds, will apply also for members of Parliament, mayors, provincial governors and public sector executives. Furthermore, MPs will not be able to hold shares in offshore companies. «I call on the other parties to urge their members of Parliament to supervise themselves and to follow the procedure in making declarations (of assets) to the Speaker and the Capital Market Commission and to contribute in this way to the ending of a campaign of slander against our political system,» Simitis said.