OPINION

Extra burden

Despite reassurances by Defense Minister Yannos Papantoniou to the contrary, the cost of defense procurements turns out to be an unbearable financial burden for the country. According to the draft budget, defense-sector debt has gone up to 7 percent of the GDP while servicing expenses are budgeted at 2.3 billion euros. In light of this economic strain, one would expect that the government would be doing anything in its power to trim spending so that, even if it is not possible to make cuts in the purchase of weapons and ammunition, it could, at least, exhaust the negotiating margins for a reduction in the price of these products. A first, reasonable step to save money would eliminate the middlemen whose interference increases the final price by 7 percent or more. But the government has not taken such action. The report in Kathimerini’s Sunday edition over the bickering between two off-shore companies that fought over the commission from the country’s purchase of German army tanks demonstrates that middlemen have not quite disappeared from the picture. Quite the opposite, in fact. The report, however, also highlights something else: that the power wielded by such middlemen is not a result of the need of arms industries to employ representatives that supposedly help them negotiate with potential purchasers – states, that is – but of the fact that illicit commissions and bribes end up in the pockets of the individuals who make up a thick network of representatives and offshore companies. The details of the clash between the two offshore companies over Greece’s army tanks demonstrate that Greece is no exception when it comes to secret commissions and the payment of black money. Furthermore, given that arms purchases across the world are connected to bribes and connections, Greece seems to have a long way to go, as it puts up with the open interference of middlemen in contracts which are essentially made on the basis of transparent agreements and negotiations. Was the contribution of these offshore companies to the arms market so great as to deserve the high amounts that they now demand? Did they send a brochure of the army tanks to the ministry, or did they help fill in the necessary papers for taking part in the tender? Or was it that they simply played a role in squandering tax payers’ money?