OPINION

Arms and kickbacks

Amid developments on Cyprus and renewed expectations for better Greek-Turkish relations, and with an economy that can barely cover pressing social needs, the Government Council on Foreign Policy and Defense will meet on Monday to approve new and costly armaments programs. Tanks, helicopters, and warships are all included in a list drawn up by the Defense Ministry and the Army Staff which will be presented to the government’s defense and foreign policy council. The total cost amounts to about $4.5 billion. It’s an extremely high one under current circumstances, as the government is struggling to raise funds for the 2004 Olympic Games and domestic investment funds to back the projects of the Third Community Support Framework. It makes one sad to see the pressing need for armaments and the rightful indignation at the ever-increasing commissions. An indicative example is the doubling of the cost of German-made tanks, whose agreed price last spring was 500 billion drachmas (1.47 bln euros). This figure has risen above 960 billion (2.82 bln euros) in five months, as the military’s middlemen ordered additional equipment such as periscopes, special-type machine guns and air conditioning. The more vigilant believe that the armaments programs have been caught up in the usual network of corruption, commissions, and political power plays. Some say 300 million euros has been spent on kickbacks to middlemen and partners to compensate for losses from other activities, to create profits from others and to serve political ambitions. For the government to prove that it does not use armaments programs to drain public money, it must make clear what it buys, from whom, and at what price. Above all, it must explain the role of middlemen in arms purchases when these are covered by bilateral agreements. Otherwise, the justified speculation will go on.