Anti-corruption front sees cracks

The comments made by Deputy Economy and Finance Minister Adam Regouzas at a conference organized by the federation of Greece’s customs officials on June 24, and which were belatedly released to the media yesterday, came as a shock to public opinion. «In a bid to upgrade the image and the actual work of the custom services – and I am saying this as a friend – I am calling on you to put less emphasis on extra remuneration [to speed up work],» Regouzas told the conference. It is questionable whether Regouzas grasps the political implications of his comments in full. The New Democracy deputy minister did more than just acknowledge that state officials are taking bribes to speed up routine work and procedures. After all, that concession might be said to reflect the government’s realism on the issue. The problem is that Regouzas actually fell short of demanding that customs officers stop taking bribes, merely issuing a call to them to be less keen on bribes. Regouzas fails to realize that he is not an outsider but a politician who is directly responsible for the corruption of state officials in his area of competence. Because of his post and regardless of his personal views, he has an obligation to wipe out corruption rather than bargain for mutually acceptable compromises over the size of bribes with corrupt staff. It is unacceptable for a minister to accept corruption on principle and to merely negotiate the size. Regouzas’s actions merely confirm public concerns that graft and corruption thrive in the public sector and are tolerated by politicians and officials. The parliamentary question by Socialist deputies was an act of demagoguery prompted by political expediency. After all, it was PASOK that made corruption the motor of Greece’s state apparatus. But this barely compensates for Regouzas’s slip. His comments raise concerns and confusion over the principles that guide policymaking at the Economy Ministry. All this comes at a time when conservative Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis has made the war on corruption the cornerstone of his government’s policy.