NEWS

More red tape, for transparency

In another step in what it calls a crusade against corruption in public life, the government yesterday presented legislation demanding that some 200,000 people, including 120,000 public sector employees, file annual declarations of their assets and the way in which they acquired them. The measure, which already applies to politicians and journalists, will now cover another 32 categories. The presidential decree was presented by Interior Minister Costas Skandalidis and will go into effect as soon as it is published in the Government Gazette. The huge number of people who will now be subjected to this scrutiny raises questions as to how thorough any investigation can be, suggesting that most declarations will not be inspected and the measure will do little to increase transparency in public life. The decree also extends to several more groups the ban on trading on the stock exchange that now applies to members of Parliament, Cabinet ministers, general secretaries of ministries and politicians – with all that this implies for the already struggling bourse. In other words, regional governors, prefects, mayors, judicial officials and the heads of state corporations will, like politicians, be allowed to invest only in mutual funds. These people will also be prohibited from being involved in offshore companies. Banking and tax confidentiality will be lifted when people are investigated for suspected illegalities. Among civil servants to whom the legislation will apply are employees of town-planning offices, doctors working for the State and the Social Security Foundation (IKA) and officials involved in: public purchases, technical services, construction projects, forestry services, the military, the coast guard, social security organizations and the distribution of EU funds. These declarations of assets and their sources are known in Greek as pothen esches statements. It is paradoxical that at a time when the government is claiming to be streamlining bureaucracy, more red tape should be thrown into public life, and in a way that violates basic constitutional rights, such as that allowing free economic activity. The bill will also open to scrutiny the economic activity of politicians back to 1990. Assets that are gained illegally will be subject to confiscation. People found to have abused their position can be punished by up to three years in prison and a fine, with family members facing similar punishment if they gained from the illegal activity. People filing fake declarations or not filing at all face a minimum two-year prison term and a fine. The parliamentary committee that inspects MPs’ assets will be reinforced with more accountants. A three-member committee will be drawn up to oversee the inspection of statements by non-political people (including civil servants, journalists, news media owners and the many categories listed above). This committee will comprise a deputy prosecutor of the Supreme Court, a professor of economics and a chartered accountant. The committee will have a support staff of experts and chartered accountants. Inspections will be on a «sample» basis, except for «high-risk» categories (such as those related to state purchases, town planning and EU subsidies), where they will be regular. New Democracy’s shadow interior minister, Prokopis Pavlopoulos was scathing. «Not only does this (decree) not guarantee transparency… in public life, it creates a smokescreen over past illegalities and those tied to the great stock exchange scandal.»