The state’s inability to safeguard itself against civil service employees being appointed on the basis of forged education certificates, even though such violations came to light years ago and legislation has been passed to deal with the consequences, is illustrated in the disgraceful case of two schools in Arta and their graduates, which Kathimerini is investigating again today.
The two technical vocational schools (TEEs) in northwestern Greece operated outside every legal and moral boundary from 1999 to 2006, issuing diplomas with top marks to nonexistent students in collusion with an organized networks of educators, officials and parents. The certificates were used to secure positions in the country’s civil service or to climb the public administration’s hierarchy. The most infuriating thing is that this continues today, providing ample proof that the system is bankrupt.
Following charges brought against them in 2004 and 2006, the two schools were ordered to shut down, finally doing so in 2009. According to a law (3577/2007) drafted by then Education Minister Marietta Giannakou, all diplomas issued from 2004 to 2007 by TEEs that had faced disciplinary action or had their licenses revoked would be considered null and void. The holders of such suspect degrees would have to resit the exams in a process that would be defined by the minister herself.
These exams never took place in Arta (though they were held in, for example, Larissa, according to the OIELE federation of private school educators). A recent report by the Public Administration Internal Audit Service (SEEDE), which has been seen by Kathimerini, states that the ministerial decision outlining the exam process was never issued. SEEDE was ordered by the Administrative Reform Ministry, then under Kyriakos Mitsotakis, to launch a probe, after OIELE sent the Education Ministry a CD (and asked that it be made known to the Administrative Reform Ministry) containing the names of 2,000 graduates who had received fake degrees from the two Arta TEEs in the period from 2000 to 2007.
SEEDE’s report reveals that just 28 acts for rescinding fake degrees have been issued so far. Kathimerini has meanwhile learned that the other “graduates” continue to work and earn promotions, and not just in the municipal police and the Public Power Corporation, but many even at hospitals. Some of the latter – such as the University Hospital of Ioannina, which has dozens of staff with degrees from the two TEEs – have formally submitted their concerns about the validity of their educational qualifications. Despite SEEDE’s efforts, with the help of the service responsible for the census of public sector workers, the data on the CD was not comprehensive enough to ensure the safe identification of all the civil servants with degrees from the two institutions (cross-referencing has revealed at least 539 such individuals).
The case returned to the fore following a majority decision on December 30 by the Third Section of the Council of State, the country’s highest administrative court, that threw out an appeal by the recently replaced general inspector of public administration, Leandros Rakintzis, who had argued that the disciplinary measures imposed on educators found to have been involved in the scam were too lenient. The reasoning of the court was that Rakintzis’s tenure had expired in September 2009 and was not renewed. The case has not been forwarded to the plenary, which will issue the final decision. Apart from Rakintzis’s outstanding appeals, which if thrown out by the plenary in accordance with the Third Section’s decision will mean the disciplinary measures will be overturned, concerns have also been expressed about the possibility of retroactive action by civil servants who were more severely punished as a result of Rakintzis’s action from September 2009 and after.
It is worth mentioning some of the findings from the internal investigation that was conducted on the two TEEs, which illustrate the extent of the duplicity. A teacher at one of the institutions stated: “The paper was always supposed to be given a grade of 20 [out of 20]. I was threatened with dismissal when I objectively graded the first 10 papers of my first round of examinations.” The same educator testified that professors who were in the civil service or sat on examination boards would change exam grades and even entire papers.
The schools’ most important documents – from the student records and the records of the teachers’ association to the grades of every quarter – were written “not in indelible ink, but with pens that could be completely erased without leaving a trace.” One of the reasons was to facilitate the enrollment of more students than were allowed.
Students who failed to turn up to classes without good reason above the 64-day limit (even up to 170 days) would still be awarded their diplomas. Evidence was even found of teachers passing on students to the next year in May, or before the exam period. Workers at the schools, among others, testified that the teacher would reveal the exam subjects to the students, that there was no protocol of recording missed days and other equally outrageous practices.
Rakinztis had challenged the disciplinary action imposed on four public sector educators who were involved in the scam at the two TEEs as being too lenient. Criminal charges against them were dropped in December 2012 after the Arta Council of Misdemeanor Court Judges ruled that the statute of limitations had expired on the misdemeanor charges (written down from a felony) of forgery. The strictest penalty imposed by the disciplinary council’s appeals panel in 2011 was a three-month suspension of work without pay. Rakintzis had asked for that particular worker to either be sacked or demoted. Two of the four civil servants who faced charges have already retired, while the third is on a temporary suspension with reduced pay and the fourth continues to work as a director at a private vocational college (IEK).
If the Council of State’s plenary upholds the Third Section’s ruling, it will inadvertently be providing protection to not just to the four workers whose penalties have been challenged by the public inspector but also to all other public sector workers who have received lenient treatment after being found guilty of violations.