Corruption is a way of life in Greece, and even the raging economic crisis cannot stop it.
By Andy Dabilis for Southeast European Times in Athens -- 06/07/12
Whistles are seen in front of the parliament during a rally against corruption at Syntagma Square in Athens last June. [Reuters]
Costas Bakouris sees more corruption than anyone in Greece, but can do little to stop it.
The head of the Athens branch of the anti-corruption agency Transparency International has been railing for years against bribery, political favouritism and the Greek practice of passing "fakelaki" -- envelopes stuffed with cash in return for services -- but almost nothing has changed, even during the crushing economic crisis.
"The only way to stop it is to enforce the law," he told SETimes. He blamed governments that have not only ignored corruption, but practiced it -- packing public payrolls for generations with hundreds of thousands of needless workers in return for votes – hiding corruption that drove up the country's debt to 367 billion euros.
Bakouris, who has headed the agency's Athens office for six years, came to the job from private industry. "I found there was so much corruption, it was changing the interest of investors," he said.
The new coalition government led by Prime Minister Antonis Samaras is concentrating on trying to get international lenders to renegotiate terms of devastating austerity measures, and has not emphasised corruption as an enemy of the state.
"We have lost the values that constitute a civil society. We started to rationalise and say a little fakelaki isn't bad," Bakouris said. He added that Greeks grew up believing that, "If you didn't get a job in the public sector, you were an idiot."
From needless jobs, refusal to give receipts, evading taxes, to high-level bribery, analysts estimate that Greek citizens spent nearly 1.62 billion euros last year on bribes, but the real costs run deeper because they are unaccounted for.
Tax evasion is another phenomenon that is common in the country -- costing the state an estimated 60 billion euros.
Politicians and the wealthy were above the law in Greece, before protests, strikes and riots against pay cuts, tax hikes and slashed pensions led to the arrest of a former defence minister on money-laundering and a series of corruption-related charges involving defence contracts with foreign companies, a scandal that could amount to 47m euros.
"We have to see people go to jail, which hasn't happened yet, especially politicians," Bakouris said. "People feel their salaries have been cut and the people who did that haven't been affected."
About 90% of investigations carried out by public prosecutors concern graft in the public sector -- but even after a new law was passed to speed investigations, no public sector corruption cases have been prosecuted.
"I don't think everybody is on the take. There are enclaves of corruption, including people who are difficult to apprehend because the deals are under the table," Dimitris Sotiropoulos, a research associate at Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy in Athens, told SETimes.
But to many Greeks, their country is the most rotten, a whirlpool of bribery, opaqueness and cozy business-government connections to benefit the rich and powerful.
In a World Economic Forum survey, Greeks ranked their country 125th for a lack of corporate ethics and 123rd for unethical politicians.
Still, Bakouris hopes corruption can be beaten back. "We have a lot of people who are still full of integrity but the crisis has made a lot of people rationalise their behaviour. A lot of people think it's part of our culture, but I don't agree."
Many Greeks think otherwise. Emmanuil Boultadakis, 35, a radiographer, told SETimes that he and his brother tried to open a hostel and were sent to different agencies which couldn't help them unless they knew who to bribe. "If you want something in Greece, you have to pay for it," he said.