Greeks Break Silence over Culture of Bribes and Fraud

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Theodoros Pangalos is no stranger to controversy.

The former deputy prime minister of Greece has spent most of his political career challenging authority. It didn’t matter which party was in government, even if it was Pangalos’s own Panhellenic Socialist Movement. He spoke what he thought, infuriating politicians and officials along the way.

Now retired from politics, Pangalos recently set up his own special website,—literally translated as “We ate up everything together.”

It was the Greeks, he writes, who squandered billions of EU money and it was the Greek politicians and civil servants who got Greece into this catastrophic financial mess in the first place. So stop blaming others.

The website is a huge success. For the first time ever, Greeks are posting how they have to pay bribes for almost every service, from giving a doctor an envelope before delivering a baby to passing money under the counter to civil servants, politicians, teachers, police, pension and social insurance officials. It’s an astonishing account about what Greeks have tolerated over the decades. It also gives a fascinating and depressing picture into the level of systemic corruption and fraud within the civil service.

Mazi ta Fagami, for example, cites staggering amounts of money paid out by the Labor Ministry’s pensions department. A total of 63,500 main and supplementary pensions were found to be fraudulent. Their subsequent cancellation meant a saving of 450 million euros. That’s only the tip of the iceberg

Pangalos’s website also is rendering the country a tremendously important service: It is helping to encourage a grass roots movement for citizens who, burdened by the austerity measures, are no longer prepared to remain silent over the bribery and corruption.

The International Monetary Fund and the European Union have also put pressure on several ministries to conduct scrupulous audits. So if a strong civil society movement can emerge as a result of Mazi ta Fagami, then perhaps Greece has a real chance in making a break with its past.

But it is very difficult to change a culture in a short time.

Look at Romania and India.

Romania joined the EU in 2007 but before and ever since has been criticized for endemic corruption, not only in the judiciary but in every area of public life. Bribery doesn’t even stop with adults. Students pay their teachers and professors for better grades. There is systemic cheating during university entrance examinations. 

Changing such a culture does not work when politicians do not take the lead. But not even Prime Minister Victor Ponta seemed the least bit embarrassed when it was found out that he had plagiarized his doctoral thesis. At least in Romania, too, civil society increasingly is fed up with the culture of bribery. And then there is EU pressure, too.

And then, look at India. Any investor or anyone trying to do business in India will tell you how difficult it is to do anything efficiently or legally because of the combined inertia and corruption of the bureaucracy that seeps through to the level of village communities. 

Last year, the Indian campaigner Anna Hazare set up an independent anticorruption agency called Lokpal and organized rallies in a bid to persuade the government to draft and then implement anti-corruption legislation. His campaign has stalled after becoming embroiled in political infighting.

Nevertheless, more and more citizens across India are demanding transparency even though they know it will be a long haul to overturn a culture of bribery.

Yet maybe they can take heart from Pangalos, with his ability to attract a huge following and annoy those in power. If his Mazi ta Fagame website takes off, maybe even a country like Greece can change.


Comments (2)

  • P.Karagounis
    In a decision of redemption this former MP has decided to come to the light .By creating a fancy website and putting a catchy title " We ate it up together" ,he has gift wrapped the discussing results of his party long ruling.

    He equates the loot of managers, high ranking officials of state owned companies, employees of ministries and tax collection agencies to the pennies the small bussiness have managed to evade as a result of his party's complacency, inefficiency and cunningness.

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  • Jammanco
    Only the Drachma and a Junta will save Greece now from the mess it is in! Greece needs a Junta for a couple of years to jail the traitors who are running everything now. It needs a Junta to stop the boot licking politicians who are trying to save their bank accounts in Switzerland to the detriment of the people. I say to Greeks give me liberty or give me death!
    Kolokotronis (Greek Revolutionary Hero) was right -- no involvement in European affairs! Of course he was thrown in jail for his beliefs. I doubt whether there are enough patriots left in the military to run a proper Junta anyway! Otherwise they would have taken the country over a few years ago.
    Instead of looking for a way out, this government is digging a deeper hole to please the bankers. Get rid of the blood-sucking Euro and return to the Drachma to regain your national sovereignty again! Of course the banks and politicians will not allow this, so have fun with this next round of Austerity and sell-offs until there is no country left.
    Greece doesn't have to leave Europe to leave the Euro. The EU was started in the 50's as a platform for economic cooperation between the various states -- not as a monetary union. Britain for example is in the EU but still retains her own currency. The corruption in Greece would then stay within her borders as it did in the past -- and she could print as much currency as needed to pay off her debts as she did in the past. Russia and Argentina did the same a few years ago and are much better off. This austerity is making the common man in Greece pay for what the politicians and banks stole. Turkey fortunately did not join the Euro and now has become the China of the Middle East! Factories and holiday makers have flocked there because of the low cost.
    Not only are the banks at fault for crippling austerity measures, the politicians everywhere have become their lackeys and have forgotten any responsibility they had toward their countries as representatives of the people and patriots. They have forgotten for example, how much of the people’s blood was shed to make Greece a country out of the Ottoman Empire.
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