Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ top priority on entering the Maximos Mansion should be to make clear to his ministers that he has a zero tolerance for corruption. If he does, the country could enter a multi-year virtuous cycle.
Sure, there are other priorities: kick-starting investment, removing capital controls, issuing a long-term bond and eventually renegotiating the fiscal straitjacket with the eurozone. But unless the new prime minister starts cleaning the Augean stables of corruption, all the rest could be of little long-term benefit.
Remember that Greece is enjoying a holiday on servicing most of its humongous debt until 2032. Once that deadline is less than a decade away – in other words, from 2022 – investors may start worrying again about how the government will fund itself. And unless the country by then is addressing its deep-seated problems, it could head back into a vicious cycle.
It may seem a Herculean task to solve Greece’s multifarious problems: the politicization of the judiciary, the poor performance of the civil service, the interference in public life of the oligarchs, tax cheating, the public’s failure to pay their debts and so forth. But if Mitsotakis can establish integrity at the heart of government, there is a decent chance that good practices will eventually cascade throughout the entire country.
Part of the solution is obviously to pick honest ministers who can deliver. But Mitsotakis needs to reinforce this by making clear to every member of his Cabinet that they will have to resign if they are found guilty of bad practices.
He should reinforce this with a strong modern code of conduct, which every minister would be expected to sign. This should cover key issues such as financial corruption, honesty in public statements and non-interference with the judiciary and other independent arms of the state.
The new prime minister should then appoint a senior person of unimpeachable integrity to police this system. Any minister suspected of ethical breaches would be investigated – and, if found guilty, would have to resign immediately.
If Mitsotakis fails to establish the integrity of his government, it will be hard to clean the Augean stables. Lectures to the judiciary and civil service will be dismissed as hypocrisy. And why should the people pay their taxes if the politicians have their snouts in the trough like pigs? But if he can set a good example from the top, Greece will finally be on the path to modernization.
Hugo Dixon is chairman of InFacts, a journalistic enterprise arguing for the United Kingdom to stay in the European Union. He wrote this piece for Kathimerini.