Corruption stirs debate

President Karolos Papoulias yesterday expressed unusually sharp criticism of the Greek political system as Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis and the main opposition PASOK leader George Papandreou clashed in Parliament over a string of corruption scandals allegedly involving government officials. Papoulias attributed the seemingly widespread and deep-rooted phenomenon of corruption in politics to «illicit political funding and shady exchanges between the political and business elite.» «When the responsibility of parliamentarians to defend the interests of the people is subordinated to economic power and vested interests, efforts to create a just and equal society are undermined,» he said. Corruption in public life, and its causes, were also the focus of yesterday’s heated exchange between Karamanlis and Papandreou. Responding to acerbic criticism from Papandreou, the PM used some of his strongest language yet in Parliament, rejecting claims of wrongdoing as groundless. «We cannot condemn anyone without evidence,» he said. «We have never done favors for anyone, we are not doing so now and we never will,» the premier added. Karamanlis was responding to a volley of accusations, hurled earlier by Papandreou, that the government withheld evidence relating to the alleged blackmail of former Culture Ministry general secretary Christos Zachopoulos and to the alleged securing of state contracts for electronics giant Siemens. «Why do you refuse to answer to the people? Are you afraid to submit the letters of (former Culture Minister Petros) Tatoulis? Why do you not want an investigative committee on the Siemens affair?» Papandreou asked. He also criticized recent deals between state-controlled Public Power Corporation (PPC) and Germany’s electricity producer RWE, calling them «under-the-table agreements.» These agreements will come at a huge environmental cost, transforming Greece into a «dumping ground for energy pollution,» Papandreou charged. Papoulias also stressed the importance of environmental protection accompanying development. «Sustainable development is not possible without respect for nature,» he said.