Ten days to prepare war on corruption

Prime Minister Costas Simitis yesterday gave top aides 10 days to finalize proposals on combating corruption in public life. Among the measures already taken is upgrading public-sector inspection mechanisms to give them prosecutorial powers, such as the Finance Ministry’s highly effective financial crimes squad (SDOE). Other measures under discussion include the frequent transfer of people in positions that may make them vulnerable to temptation, the swift prosecution and conviction of people breaking the law and the simplification and codification of people’s dealings with the public sector. The speed with which the prime minister has tackled the issue is connected to fears in the government that sleaze attacks, such as the one against President Costis Stephanopoulos last week, will continue. This time, the targets are expected to be senior officials in the PASOK party. But party members expressed surprise that despite days of leaks, no measures were announced yesterday. Sources said Simitis took this decision because the proposals made by senior ministers did not dovetail with each other and because hasty decisions might have turned out to be impossible to implement. National Economy Minister Nikos Christodoulakis, Interior Minister Costas Skandalidis, Environment Minister Vasso Papandreou and Public Order Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis attended the meeting, as did Citizen’s Advocate Nikiforos Diamantouros and Deputy Press Minister Telemachos Hytiris. The discussion focused on financial crimes, illegal gambling and corruption in the civil service. «We need action, not words,» Simitis reportedly told them at the start. Hytiris said afterwards that: «The government is ready to take all necessary measures to deal with the problem of corruption.» Christodoulakis proposed that slot machines should not be banned outright but that the rules regulating them be stricter and that they were policed to such an extent that the machines could not be turned into unlicensed «one-armed bandits.» Diamandouros said most instances of public sector corruption occured in hospitals, city planning offices, vehicle testing facilities and tax departments. It was decided to grant investigative, prosecutorial powers to state sector inspectors.

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