Is there a cure for corruption in Greece?

Acropolis of Athens

As Henry Kissinger said, corrupt politicians are defamation for the rest 10%. It seems that Greece is a classical paradigm of this. Not to forget that the architect and contractor of the Athens Acropolis died in prison accused of stealing some of the gold used to construct the Goddess’s statute.  Today in this country, contrary to what is standard in the rest of the developed world, taxes are not one of the two certainties of life, the other being death.

Wealthy Greeks are renowned tax evaders and the bulk of government tax income comes from wage earners and pensioners, who cannot conceal their receipts from the always bribes seeking tax authorities. Wages and pensions are being paid directly to bank accounts and there is no way for their recipients to avoid taxation.

Everybody else, small and medium businessmen, professionals of any kind plumbers and surgeons alike, farmers and property owners are not paying any taxes and more than 80% of them fill up tax returns with incomes below taxable income. It is a Greek miracle to see doctors, building contractors, small businessmen, accountants and others declaring less than subsistence incomes to drive luxury cars, having good times in their sailing yachts and live in splendid houses. At this point however starts the “negotiation” with the tax authorities and the usual outcome is a large bribe for the taxman or taxwoman and nothing for the government.

Mind you that no Greek government has ever tried to change this, because the “bribe chain” goes as high as…ministerial levels and the political party apparatchiks. Not necessarily only governing parties but all of them. Unfortunately it is not only the Greek tax administration people who work for themselves. The same is true for the entire government and local authority licencing and control apparatus. Everybody knows that for example the Forestry Service and through it the actual ownwrship of all Greek forests are in the hands of the Communist Party.

In this case this is how it works. Some decades ago some politicians had the idea to pass a law totally banning any building activity within a forest, even if it is a private property. But who is to say what is a forest or not, if not the Forestry Service?

This means even if you own a land plot in the country side, in order to get an official building permit the Forestry Service has to say that this is not and never was a forest. The document however declaring that this private land plot was never a forest will increase the value of it many folds. Will you be so greedy as not to share this new wealth with the poor forest official? They usually ask the one third of the value of the deforested land. But the story does not end here.

Of course you can overpass the Forestry Service and built your house without an official building permit, a very common practice in Greece, where half of the buildings in the countryside are constructed without official blessing. In this case however you have to find an “arrangement” with the local police, who must look the other way while you house is built. This will cost you less because it will be an illegal construction.

It is very rare that any kind of administrative fines are finally paid. Practically all authorities, police and judiciary included are always prone to “negotiate”. In short the state and the local authority governance machinery are in the hands of political party armies or local groups (elected deputies and majors, notaries, tax authority, police) who work for themselves.

To secure the private workings within the state apparatus, politicians usually pass in Parliament obscure, contradictory and byzantine legislation. In this way, public servants and their political masters are the “interpreters” of the law, and can turn and twist it the way they like. The same is true for almost all public procurements, being it armaments, public works and the likes.

The well-connected groups of professionals like lawyers, notaries, civil engineers, contractors, accountants and others have also managed to secure for themselves special tax procedures which leave huge loopholes for evasion. In total there are two million Greeks in a population of ten who are interconnected around political parties, local authorities, the civil services with licencing and control powers, the police and the judiciary who run the country.

Above all those state “agents”, it is the political parties who run the country and the state machinery in a clientelist way like feudal lords, breaking even the laws they have themselves voted in Parliament. The patent is duplicated in smaller scale in the rest of the country, with the elected county majors and deputies, who run the provinces to their profit, having alienated the local civil services.

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