Whilst this blog is not called “Corruption Watch Greece”, unfortunately a large percentage of the news these days requires us to focus on the subject. Systemic corruption in Greece is widely regarded as one of the triggers of the Greek debt crisis also threatening the very fabric of the Greek nation today. According to Transparency International, “efforts to reform and rebuild Greece’s economy in the future will be undermined because the country’s government, businesses and civil servants not only fail to stop corruption but actively participate in it”. More specifically, this warning was issued on 29 February 2012 through Transparency International Greece’s first ever assessment of the ability of important national institutions to fight corruption and underscores the fact that Greece’s ranking on Transparency International’s closely watched Corruption Perception Index (CPI) worsened in 2011, with the country taking joint 80th position out of 183 countries on the list. Its ranking puts it on a par with El Salvador, Morocco, Peru and Thailand, a ranking worse than any other country in the European Union of 27 nations, below that of Turkey in fact.
What is truly amazing, therefore, is that even after the latest revelations about bogus pensions, the orgy of fraud by corrupt IKA employees, the illegal social security benefits, and bribery demands by senior public servants at the Ministry of Development, some people continue to be offended by Pangalos’ statement that “Olloi mazi ta fagame” (“We ate everything together”), to run after Dalaras (a famous popular singer and a national icon who has always been a staunch defender of Greece’s interests) throwing chairs or “moutzes [offensive gestures]” at him and partake in throwing yoghurt at politicians. The logic that it is impossible for the 300 members of parliament, along with 100 or a few more corrupt henchmen to build up a national public debt of 360 Billion Euro seems to be dawning, finally, in the most dramatic way possible.
In fact, according to the recent audit carried out by the Ministry of Labour, a total of 63,500 main and supplementary pensions were found to be fraudulent and their cancellation has resulted in a net benefit to the long-suffering state-owned pension funds of 450 Million Euro per annum, even though no real mention has been made about recuperating illegal payments already made or firing the individuals that approved those pensions. It is notable that in the OGA (Agricultural Pension Fund) audit alone, 8,500 outright fraudulent pensions were found as well as 21,000 persons who were receiving allowances and benefits without being entitled to them. According to the Minister of Labour, the audit found that many people were illegally receiving pensions for over two decades, whilst interestingly, after their cancellation only 7-8 people turned up to claim them. How fast the news travels, it seems.
The fact that many people were invited to and took part in the “party” that Pangalos refers to is confirmed by the data made public by the Ministry of Health whilst the full report that reveals other specific cases of wholesale fraud is expected to be released in the next few days. The scam involving welfare benefits, set up on a national basis, is estimated to have cost the state more than 4 Billion Euro over the last decade! The audit conducted by the Ministry of Health revealed that on the island of Zakynthos, of the 700 people who were receiving the “blindness benefit“ (2% of the island’s population compared to 0.6% on a global basis (including third world countries) according to the World Health Organisation), only 100 turned up to claim the benefit as part of the audit of which 60 were found not to be blind! In the municipality of Eleusina, Attika, 107 files concerning apparently fraudulent cases of welfare benefits have been sent to the public prosecutor’s office. On the island of Kalymnos, during the two months July-August 2011, 595 cases of people with severe disabilities were registered. On this basis, with a population of 8% of that of the entire Dodecanese, Kalymnos officially now boasts 31% of the cases of severe disability of the entire prefecture! Moreover in the Dodecanese, a total of 68 people receive the “Heating Fuel Benefit” of which 59 live on Kalymnos, that is 87% of the total! One could also be forgiven for believing that the rest of the population of Kalymnos is comprised of blind people and of people with mental disabilities with 18% of all the blind people in the Dodecanese (59 out of a total of 335) and 17% of those with severe mental disabilities (53 out of a total of 311). In other words, statistically, just about every Kalymnian suffers from something and receives a social security benefit for it. This of course, reveals there is simply no oversight by these organizations’ Athens headquarters or the Ministry of Health, as one would expect when cases of certain aliments statistically exceed national or international averages. …
Recently, 7 employees of the Kallithea branch of IKA (the largest social security organisation in Greece) were arrested and charged over a massive scam involving millions of euro that were stolen from that organisation’s coffers via a primitive but effective scheme made possible through the active participation and collaboration of the public. Whilst the exact amount stolen is still unknown, as investigations are currently in progress, it is estimated that the financial loss to the state-owned fund will exceed 300 Million Euro. This scam involved fraudulent claims being approved to members of the public as beneficiaries by corrupt officials who orchestrated it over a number of years. Both benefited. Indicatively, one of the main players, a middle-aged IKA employee, was found with nearly one Million Euro in notes in her mansion, complete with a swimming pool and private chapel for forgiveness of sins. It is beyond any doubt that the participants in this scam were not only public sector mandarins and medical personnel, but many ordinary folk who received welfare payments for bogus pregnancies, births of twins, virtual medical operations and hospitalization for non-existent illnesses.
Hot on the heels of the IKA scam comes the arrest of two senior Ministry of Development employees caught red handed accepting a bribe of 120,000 Euro which they had demanded from two businessmen to release the approval of government grants for a hotel complex development (already agreed in principle), the paperwork of which was submitted in 2005. The ministry officials had been holding back the disbursement of 13 Million Euro’s worth of state grants for the construction of a new hotel complex in the Peloponnese. Ministry employees had apparently been making demands for a kickback since one year after the application for the grant was submitted. Initially there were demands for 700,000 Euro. The businessmen, who already own a hotel complex outside Nafplion, refused to pay the bribe and the approval to provide the grant remained locked up in a drawer at the Development Ministry. It is a well-known secret in Greece that ministry officials nearly always ask for a bribe equal to between 2 and 4 percent of the value of the grant. The fact that this is a known “going rate” shows just how prevalent and audaciously open the practice has become.
According to Kathimerini Newspaper (article dated 14 March 2012) this case has highlighted the difficulties that the Greek justice system has in dealing with cases of alleged corruption. About 90 percent of investigations carried out by public prosecutors relate to claims of graft in the civil service and a law passed last October designed to speed up the process has yet to be implemented. Since the law was passed last year, no ruling has been issued for a case of alleged public sector corruption.
It is notable that as soon as she was appointed Development Minister, and when this scandal hit the media, Anna Diamantopoulou reacted quickly by ordering the immediate dismissal of the approximately 100 personnel comprising the Department of Investment of the Development Ministry that these two culprits derived from and their replacement. The Inspector of Public Administration, Dimitrios Rakintzis, has been assigned to investigate the financial affairs of all these personnel from 2005 until today and their bank accounts ordered opened.
It is encouraging that the Minister has exercised such apparent determination in rooting out the rot in her new ministry, but one cannot help but wonder to what extent have the seeds of the rot spread? Are these the final spasms of a dying decadent society on its way out, or is this merely the tip of the iceberg?