The biggest challenge for any government in Greece would be for it to infiltrate the deeply innate corruption that exists. In fact, bribery and fraudulency are so deeply entrenched in people’s psyches that it would be a better idea if the Finance Ministry hired psychologists rather than financial experts to help the country break the habit.
As it is, greasy palms will probably continue to plague the Greek GDP for many years to come. And here are (at least) ten reasons why:
1. Corruption is unremarkable and commonplace
Corruption is so widespread in Greece that most people fail to recognize its existence in their daily lives. Oftentimes, those who rush to blame the politicians and big-time entrepreneurs, are the same people who partake in it themselves. No, they aren’t a nation of crooks, just blind to their own social reflexes shaped by the entire mentality of the place. Few people recognize their small-scale contribution every time they take someone’s still-valid public transport ticket rather than buy a new one or agree to not receive a receipt at a store, preferring instead to have 5 euros slashed off.
2. Greece is too caught up in a blame game to overcome shortfalls
When former socialist PASOK deputy Theodoros Pangalos created his e-book, titled “Ta Fagame Oli Mazi” (We Ate it All Together), he came under fire for trying to shift the government’s shortfalls onto the little guy. What he was basically pointing out, in a very arrogant way, that the system is crooked to the core and the ordinary Greeks who expected their government members to hire them or jumped at the chance for benefits were not without blame. He detailed case studies to exemplify how ordinary Greeks had colluded with politicians in a feast of corruption. Philosophically, he was spot on, though his big belly is evidence as to who fed on the biggest portion.
3. Those fighting corruption are themselves corrupt
The Greek saying, “The fish stinks from the head” (το ψάρι βρωμάει απ’ το κεφάλι), couldn’t be truer in a nation where there’s dirty laundry to be found no matter which parliamentarian you pick. From Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, whose wife Betty Batziana, suddenly got a cushy university lecturing post after he was sworn in, to Economy Minister George Stathakis who forgot to declare a million euros worth of assets and State Minister Alekos Flambouraris – Tsipras’ mentor – who managed to maintain his majority shareholding in a technical services company against regulations that ban cabinet members from owning a business but also commissioned it to take on regional work worth 3.9 million euros to upgrade a fishing port.
4. It’s the only way you’ll get the job done
Most Greeks aren’t worried that corruption will shrink Greece’s GDP even further. What matters to them is to make their life a little easier. Imagine yourself on a hospital list waiting to be operated upon and facing great pain. The doctors may ignore you because they expect a bribe. People in Greece feel that all they can do in such cases is to pay a ‘fakelaki’ (little envelope stuffed with money).
5. Corruption has been legitimized
When former health minister/current EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos was asked from his post as Greece’s health chief to describe what a fakelaki is, he said: “A fakelaki is a Greek way to buy time and choose the doctor you want.” And in one sweeping statement, hospital fakelakia were legitimised in a state system where doctors work unpaid overtime and get paid less than 1,000 euros per month for their services at state hospitals. No wonder there’s a brain drain!
6. Nobody resigns or gets punished for corruption
Scandals come and go as in every country, but in Greece there are few instances of people being shamed into resignation or punished, unless you exclude money-laundering socialist PASOK heavyweight Akis Tsohatzopoulos. The government’s web of corruption implicates so many government officials that, at the end of the day, it is easier to be left tangled. As for the little guys lower down the financial food chain, the tide of public opinion is overwhelmingly in their favour with outcries in cases such as that of the chestnut vendor, aged 97 years, not handing out receipts or the beachside Asian masseuse chased by police into the waves to be arrested for tax evasion. “Leave them alone!” say onlookers. “Go get Flambouraris instead!”
7. Sometimes, it’s the only way to make ends meet
Even people who desire to be honest in Greece eventually cave in. Sweeping salary and pension cuts often mean that people are forced to find jobs on the side to secure their livelihood. When Labor Minister George Katrougalos recently announced – with utter certainty – that a Greek pensioner could survive on benefits of 390 euros per month while their single property ENFIA tax is at 395 euros (per annum), then the only way for retired people to manage would be to find an illegal job on the side with under-the-table payments. In a country when freelancers with receipt books (blockakia) can end up paying taxes in advance for money never received, then it’s a no-brainer that it’s best to toss away the books. In fact, the Hellenic Confederation of Professionals, Craftsmen and Merchants (GSEVEE) said that undeclared labor is shooting up as the economy is making it hard for businesses to survive, resulting in many professionals closing shop and going door-to-door with their services, e.g. an estimated 40 percent of hairdressers.
8. People brag about their bribes rather than shudder with shame.
A large number of Greek citizens get a buzz out of “knowing someone” and having a meson (means) who can get them a job,
write off their parking tickets or do them a “favor”. In fact, sometimes people make up stories of how they may have “beaten” the system as finding loopholes is considered a skill. Rather than shun those who pull strings, ordinary Greeks seem to find amusement in their exploits failing to see that this type of “entertainment”
comes at a high price.
9. The corruption ritual is so fine-tuned that it doesn’t even feel awkward anymore.
Regardless of what anyone says, the bribe-takers and bribe-payers are fully aware of their wrongdoing and, as testament to their basic decency, carry out their sneaky transactions far from prying eyes. The fakelakia (envelopes) are so that there is no direct-handling of money moving from the hands of the payer and the taker and that is why the government has so many consultants as money is pushed from one envelope to another dossier, getting stripped a little – euro by euro – before the bulk reaches the right bank account or off-shore company. A deviation from the fakelaki is the “rousfeti” that means expensive favours that pervade everything from hiring someone’s niece or partner or best man for a job to lucrative property deals with Greek Orthodox monks. The art of corruption in Greece has been fine-tuned over the ages so that the parties know just what to do and where to look for little loopholes. Stopping the ritual would be quite painful and scary at first, though it would make life so much easier in the long-run. Corruption does not bring prosperity, it brings poverty.
10. The Greek state is too disorganized not to be corrupt.
Or rather – perhaps we should say – that disorganization is created to serve corruption.
Here are the rates…
Yes there’s even a whistleblowing site where anonymous users share their tales of corruption and outline the current bribery rates. Edosa Fakelaki
(I Gave an Envelope/I Paid a Bribe) is a grassroots initiative where people anonymously report their experiences using crowdsourcing technology to raise awareness of the phenomenon. Administrator Kristina Tremonti started the site after her grandfather was sent to hospital with terminal cancer but only received treatment once her family paid a bribe of 300 euros.
How can corruption be eradicated? Tremonti, creator of Edosa Fakelaki, outlines some solutions: