OPINION

Impunity

Two unrelated incidents, which are likely to have escaped most people’s attention, reinforce concerns about domestic shortcomings that sustain a climate of license and impunity – a climate that has a corrosive effect on our country’s economic and political foundations. In neighboring Italy, Calisto Tanzi, founder and former chief executive officer of food giant Parmalat, was detained after revelations that he had rigged the company’s stock price in order to misrepresent its financial position and bamboozle the investing public. When authorities discovered that Tanzi had misappropriated Parmalat’s income at the expense of shareholders, they did not hesitate to arrest him as he was walking down a central Milan street and charge him with fraudulent bankruptcy. In another international development, police in Japan yesterday arrested the 48-year-old Masanori Arai, a close aide of the recently re-elected Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, on suspicion of vote-buying in November’s general election, in which he won a seat in the lower house of the Japanese Parliament. Twenty people have been arrested in connection with the case, throwing Koizumi’s administration into turmoil. The two incidents, which took place in two completely different countries, although both with strong democracies, underscored that although corruption is a universal characteristic, it does not result in certain punishment everywhere. Although similar cases of corruption and corporate crises are common in our country, the perpetrators usually get off scot-free. The climate of impunity means everything gets covered up and smoothed over and nobody is punished. If journalists somehow nose out the truth and the matter reaches the courts, some way out is found, some way of hushing up the story and shelving the issue. And matters jogs along at the same old pace, with the wrongdoers prancing about like the slick operators they are. Greece is full of little Parmalats and an even larger number of corrupt politicians. But the latter do not have the same status before the law as ordinary citizens – not even with respect to minor offenses. As a result, the rule of law is questioned, the principles and the foundations on which our political system is based crumble, and citizens’ confidence is undermined while corruption and lawlessness prevail. But for how much longer can this state of affairs last?