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Greek parliament legalizes bribery

15 April 2013 / 17:04:05  GRReporter
2994 reads

Victoria Mindova

"A material present in gratitude is not a bribe" as stipulated by the law on public administration, which was adopted on 6 March this year. The change in the law has scandalized the public opinion and provoked strong reactions from the chief inspector of the public administration Leandros Rakintzis.

"I am absolutely opposed to this addition," Rakintzis, who has been the head of the supervisory body of the state administration over the past nine years, told GRReporter. He explains that this law unties the hands of public workers and they may be exempted from liability even if they are caught with an envelope of money or other illegal gifts. "The definition of a "material present" is quite general and it could lead to the legalization of bribery. Any public worker, who renders a service to a citizen, will be able to obtain something in return, whether we are talking about money or other presents. The problem is that this act will not be considered a bribe," says the specialist.

Leandros Rakintzis states that he is unable to give a satisfactory explanation as to why the legislative authority has decided to introduce the addition in the statutory text. The official version is that the clarification introduced in the law will eliminate the possibility of considering a bouquet of flowers to a doctor, a bottle of wine or a box of chocolates a bribe. Advocates of the change state that in this way, the controlling authorities will be able to deal with the important cases.

"Nobody files a complaint for a bottle of wine given as a present to a public worker. I was a judge for 38 years and a chief inspector at the public administration for nine years. I can assure you that these small gestures are not subjects of claims. This change in the law comes to legalize in its own way the bribes and the large amounts of money that are given under the table." 

The intensification of the financial crisis, the decline in income and the deterioration in the living standards have made the Greeks more sensitive to the signs of corruption in the public sector as shown by the data provided by the supervisor of the public administration. He stresses that at present, he receives eight times more complaints about violations in the public sector compared to 2004. Nine years ago, the inspectorate received only 2,800 complaints in a calendar year. In 2012, the number of complaints exceeded 20,000. Official complaints against specific violations have prevailed recently. The number of anonymous complaints has decreased significantly compared to the period of the Olympic Games in Athens and the people have become bolder in seeking to impose order.
 
"People want change. They do not agree to living in the old conditions as everything around them is changing. The crisis in the social sphere is largely due to years of widespread corruption. The citizens understand this and they show a much greater willingness to report irregularities and incidents than they did in the past," says Rakintzis.

The data show that corruption and exchanging of undeclared amounts of money in the public sphere increases and decreases in different sectors, depending on the intensity of their development. Before the crisis, one of the most corrupt sectors was that of construction and the urban planning services. In the period of high economic growth and low interest rates on bank lending, construction in Greece prospered. The municipalities and the urban planning services were the centre of corrupt practices as they played a crucial role in the issuance of construction permits. For this reason, during the construction boom, these services held the lead in the bribery race. Now, the construction activities have almost faded away and the "exchange of presents and services" is not so active as before.

The crisis has hit the corruption in tax offices as well. Rakintzis explains it mainly with the decline in entrepreneurial activity. The change in the structure of the tax administration has intensified the control, though it cannot be said whether the mindset of the old generation of employees in the public sector has radically changed. Corrupt practices in the system of public health, where people feel most vulnerable, are intensifying at present. "As regards doctors, there are a few cases with bags of bribery, but things are starting to change here too," insists the chief inspector.

Rakintzis’ words are not confirmed by the results of Public Issue’s poll, which last month ranked as first the health sector as regards the level of corruption in Greece. It has displaced the tax authorities and the urban planning organizations from first place for more than a year now. The research shows that the administrative staff in the healthcare sector is more corrupt than the medical staff and often wants a reward in return for a "service". The rate in the public sector varies between 100-300 euro and in some cases, it can be as much as three thousand euro. It is expected that the legalization of small presents will make bribery a more common phenomenon and will discourage the citizens' active involvement in the fight against corruption.

Tags: NewsSocietyBribeLawGreeceCrisisHealth care
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