Corruption: a root cause of crisis
As citizens in Greece take to the streets to protest austerity plans, their leaders negotiate deeper spending reductions to secure terms for further financial bailouts. Meanwhile, one of the root causes of the crisis – corruption – is fading from view.
The is estimated to be as much as a third of Greece’s gross national product with tax evasion costing upwards of US$20 billion a year. This limits Greece’s ability to fund the public sector adequately.
The scale of Greece’s corruption challenge
In March, Transparency International - Greece (TI-Greece) published its covering the period between July and December. It estimated that bribery cost Greece €632 million in 2010 (US$837 million). Although down from a high of €787 million (US$1.09 billion) in 2009, this was mainly due to a reflection of the effects of the financial crisis and the shrinking size of the Greek economy, as well as government efforts to reduce opportunities for corruption.
The overall picture, taken over the four years since the survey started in 2007, is more troubling: on average more than one in ten people report having to pay a bribe for some kind of service, predominantly to public sector institutions.
In 2010, for example, more than a third of people surveyed who used a public health sector facility reported paying a bribe to secure a service or jump a queue.
Transparency International’s 86-country public survey, the Global Corruption Barometer, tells the same story. 75 per cent of Greek people surveyed in June 2010 thought corruption was increasing, and 18 per cent of households who had contact with a public service in the previous 12 months had paid a bribe.
A , published last year by Transparency International, shows that lengthy proceedings and short statutes of limitations pose significant problems for prosecuting corruption in Greece. It is particularly striking that statutes of limitations for parliamentarians and ministers are shorter than for regular citizens. Greeks named political parties as the institution they perceived to be the most corrupt.
Instituting reforms can fight corruption
The Greek government has a significant challenge. The first step to fight corruption is building strong anti-corruption measures into key institutions. Transparency, accountability and integrity are concepts that can be translated into concrete actions and enforceable legislation.
Transparency International Greece has submitted a series of recommendations to the government:
- On political financing, it wants the Elections Committee upgraded, parties to comply with accounting requirements, and the procedure of politician’s asset declarations to be reinforced.
- On the tax system, a TI conference in Athens identified the need for a codified, unified set of tax regulations which would not include the formalities and excessive red tape in the current tax code and the permanent abrogation of tax settlements (where unpaid taxes are resolved with a once-off payment).
- On public contracting, it wants the government to implement Integrity Pacts – a tool for keeping public procurement clean.
The Integrity Pact is an agreement between a government or a government department (at the federal, national or local level) and all bidders for a public contract that neither side will: pay, offer, demand or accept bribes; collude with competitors to obtain the contract; or engage in such abuses while carrying out the contract. Transparency International has used Integrity Pacts for ten years in hundreds of contracts in over 15 countries, which shows that practical solutions can make a difference if the political will is there.
Summoning the political will to fight corruption
For the past four years, TI-Greece has convened an annual conference under the heading “State and Corruption” attended by both government officials and members of opposition parties, including Prime Minister George Papandreou, who recognized the need for reform in his .
The government has adopted a number of Transparency International’s recommendations. For example, government legislation refers to Integrity Pacts including 2011 laws on public contracting in the defence sector and a, draft law on procurement of public works.
Since October 1st 2010, all public institutions (ministries, public entities, local authorities) are obliged to upload their decisions (legislative acts, ministerial decisions, tenders, budgets etc) on the Internet through the Diavgeia or “[email protected]” programme . Decisions that are not posted cannot be implemented..
Identifying problems, proposing solutions
Transparency International undertakes what it calls National Integrity Studies to identify how key institutions in a country, such as the judiciary, the police, the executive branch and the media, are set up to limit corruption. Is the Judiciary independent, for example, or can the executive branch influence decisions? Are there rules in place to limit conflicts of interest in government?
TI-Greece is in the process of compiling a National Integrity Study of Greece. It is part of a that is undertaking these studies in 24 European Union countries as well as Norway and Switzerland. These studies provide recommendations but also act as a baseline as they can be repeated to see if the country has either improved or fallen behind in the fight against corruption.
The first of these European NIS studies was published for the on 15 June.
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