Deeply ingrained unaccountability

In a country where no one ever takes the blame for anything, it comes as no surprise to see government officials behaving the way they do. For instance, earlier this week Environment Minister Giorgos Souflias expressed his outrage that the ongoing operation of the quarries at Markopoulo «is criminal, shameful, an unacceptable phenomenon which, personally, I cannot ignore.» Souflias may be a likeable minister, but he is still a minister, a member of the government. Isn’t he? So against whom, exactly, is he directing his anger and scorn? If it was just a regular citizen or even an adviser to some government official, it would be perfectly understandable. And what does Souflias mean when he says «personally» he cannot ignore the situation. Surely, the government operates collectively, in the framework of a broader system? Or could it be that advancing government projects and solving problems is something left to the patriotism of each individual, directly relevant minister. For over 40 years, the quarries in Markopoulo have been operating in violation of a presidential decree aimed at protecting the country’s mountains. But an unlawful regime, involving the operation of many other quarries, has become established for about the same length of time. It is quite difficult for any serious person to accept that, for almost half a century, a number of shrewd opportunists have been disregarding ministerial decisions, laws, decrees and judicial rulings (most recently a decision of the Council of State) out of sheer cockiness, without any need for vested interests or shady transactions. It would be quite normal for some television presenter, or commentator, or the resident of an area near a quarry, to express their outrage. But when a minister – in whose portfolio the management of quarries falls – adopts such a stance, it is downright provocative, even if the outburst is spontaneous and heartfelt (as that of Souflias appeared to be). Could it be that the state is unable to enforce the law? It is interesting to note that, following last year’s decision by the Council of State – ordering the closure of all quarries at Markopoulo – a dispute erupted between the Public Works and Development ministries, as well as the relevant local authorities, about who was responsible for implementing the decision. The outcome was that all the quarries continued to operate while a subsequent court ruling suspended the decision to close the quarries. Work that one out. A similar state of confusion has prevailed along Attica’s coastline for decades, with illegal bars and cafes literally springing up every so often. And despite televised «campaigns» showing the owners of such premises defending their premises from menacing bulldozers, the establishments in question are still standing.