OPINION

Ministerial impunity

Existing legislation on the accountability of ministers is seriously flawed. The problems are well documented: Any inquiry into political wrongdoing must go through Parliament and, as a result, the majority does not allow investigation. It’s hard to forget the Vatopedi land-swap scandal, for example, where in an unprecedented move the majority party simply withdrew from Parliament. And ultimately the crimes are written off because they fall under the extremely short statute of limitations. The problems are clear, but solutions less so. It would be simpler to do away with all protection for politicians and refer any cases involving them to justice. But simple solutions are not always the right solutions. Greeks have a soft spot for lawsuits, and a minister would need a whole army of lawyers to defend himself against every ridiculous accusation. After all, this is a country where ministers have been sued by people simply because they were not hired in the public sector. Under the threat of a lawsuit a minister may avoid taking lawful but courageous decisions. In other words, a change of the law on accountability without careful prior study may create the opposite problem: Impunity of ministers may give way to endlessly prosecuted ministers. The other question of course is: What justice system can control ministers when its head is appointed by those same ministers? Given that courts have lost their autonomy, how could a political party leader be prosecuted without triggering speculation? Even if we do find solutions to the aforementioned problems, referring ministers to justice presupposes the system’s independence from government. The law on accountability must change in order to put an end to political impunity. But this must be done after careful study of all the implications. Under no circumstances should we repeat the fiasco of the provisions that prohibited active MPs from exercising any professional activities, when the Constitution was changed in 2000, only to be changed again in 2006.