Curious case of the missing file

It’s hard to believe that the case file for the Vatopedi Monastery land-swap scandal went missing from the Ministry of Agriculture because, apparently, the woman in charge of it took it with her when she retired in order to protect herself because she is a suspect in the case. The public record that contained information on one of the biggest political scandals in Greece’s modern history had been residing, for months, in the drawer of a high-ranking public servant as though it were personal property. Apart from the obviously ludicrous aspect of this case of the missing file, which underlines the shambles of the public sector, we can also perceive one of the country’s biggest problems, namely the interests of the state being held hostage by the interests of the individual. The file is removed without hindrance, presumably with the long entrenched belief, confirmed in practice, that there will be no punishment, no consequences, just a rap on the knuckles. How many public service careers have been destroyed over oversights or rule breaking? The example has been given on several occasions by ministers who, at the end of their term in office, have taken confidential government papers home with them. Nothing is surprising in the Greek public sector. New jokes constantly crop up ridiculing it. But, there are some «mistakes» that carry symbolic weight, that undermine the political system and erode society’s belief in it. Impunity negates the terms of the social contract and undermines the very concept of illegality. The Vatopedi file will be placed in the hands of the investigating committee, albeit with some delay. But as far as public opinion is concerned the file is tainted. Widespread suspicion that cases such as this are often «tinkered» with will grow. The fact that the ministry described as «clear» the criminal responsibility attaching to the disappearance of the Vatopedi file is simply not enough; this responsibility must also be made clearly manifest.