Curbing graft

Even those who have for years turned a blind eye to corruption have to admit that the phenomenon has now taken on unprecedented dimensions. A study on corruption conducted by the Transparency International monitoring group a few months ago confirmed what Greek citizens have long known about their country: Greece was reported to be the most corrupt of all European Union countries. The recent extortion-related allegations are only one aspect of a broader problem. Graft in public life has become the rule rather than the exception to the rule. Corruption has spread over the entire pyramid, corroding the rule of law. In order to avoid delays, citizens are willing to bribe state officials who have the duty to serve them. Bribes are often paid to bypass laws and legal procedures. Such practices have a deleterious effect on social morals and cause serious harm to the public good. Corruption is worst at the top of the pyramid, where it assumes a different character. The much-discussed phenomenon of political and business entanglement undermines fair competition and ultimately our democracy itself. Graft may be a problem for all countries but here it has become almost endemic. What is worst, politicians and citizens alike tend to treat it as something normal. It was not so long ago when Prime Minister Costas Simitis would cast off allegations of government corruption by saying that «anyone who has evidence should take it to the prosecutor.» However, this is a legalistic position and not a political one. It views the forest as a sum of individual trees and – regardless of any good intentions – it ends up covering up the problem. Individualizing the phenomenon is necessary for a prosecution, but not for institutional intervention. Belatedly, at least, Costas Simitis has stopped giving this sort of response. Unfortunately, however, he keeps turning a blind eye to the phenomenon – and his persistence in this avoidance is a cause for serious concern. Everyone knows what measures need to be taken to curb the phenomenon, but the political elite has shown little, if any, political will to implement them – a fact which has helped nourish a climate of impunity. The debate in Parliament next Tuesday will be meaningful only if it leads to specific proposals.