Thwarting corruption

One does not have to scrutinize the data released by the non-governmental organization Transparency International (TI) to know that Greece ranks pretty low on the corruption index. To be sure, TI’s evaluation process, especially the barometer that is based on public surveys, is not particularly reliable: The table shows Canada as being as corrupt as Albania, which illustrates just how differently people can judge the same phenomenon. In Greece, corruption has almost become the rule, its tentacles spreading right across political and social life. Bribes are a common way of carrying out or accelerating everyday procedures. Often, they are used to get around the legal process. Such practices mock any notion of moral values, undermine the public good and distort development efforts. Moreover, they put an extra strain on taxpayers and provoke public outrage. And yet, both citizens and politicians seem to treat this unacceptable state of affairs as somewhat natural. There are, of course, various ways to tackle the scourge, but the political will of successive governments has so far been lacking. Socialist former Prime Minister Costas Simitis used to hide behind a cheap legalistic pretext, saying that «any evidence [of corruption] should be taken to the prosecutor.» However, reducing the forest into a sum of isolated trees only helped disguise and perpetuate the problem. Singling out a specific case is necessary for a prosecution, but not if the aim is institutional reform. And this is exactly what is needed here: drastic institutional changes and mobilization of a comprehensive monitoring mechanism that will eradicate the scourge and wipe out the existing presumption of immunity for guilty parties. For this to occur, however, the government and the political parties must show strong will and stop pretending they don’t know the true nature of the problem.