Thank you for your continued efforts to offer blood to Greece to help it come out of intensive care but, as you have come to realize, day by day, this will have no effect unless the source of the bleeding is first identified and treated: the wasteful corruption that is hostile to any productive initiative in the Greek State. If you have not found yourself in a Greek public authority asking for some certificate, you cannot imagine the egregious corruption and the extent of the absurdity of this Kafkaesque organization. The Greek State, which consists in large part of former hangers of campaign posters for the two main political parties, is eating the bowels of the productive capacity of the country, as the vulture in the tragedy “Prometheus Bound" of Aeschylus.
I want to assure you that two cultures coexist in Greece. Greece is not only the crooked politicians and bureaucrats who have made us feel ashamed of our country. Greece does indeed have a huge potential of intelligent, creative, hard-working and ethical people who are strangled every day by the mafia of the political parties. In Italy, the Mafia may have dealings with the State, but in Greece the State itself is the Mafia! All these years, the politicians, in collaboration with public works contractors, who also own media organizations, shamelessly steal the EU subsidies and the taxes of those Greeks who cannot evade taxation, while offering outrageous immunity to any gangster of their ilk.
What would you do if the tax auditor came to check your business and, after finding everything in perfect order, tells you that he cannot return to the tax office "empty handed", that he must definitely levy a fine and get a “cut” for himself as well? There are many former civil servants who resigned because they could not bear to spend their entire lives in an office with absolutely nothing to do, except for dispensing illegal favors with the blessing of their political supervisors!
There is no single sector today in Greece that reminds us of a Western European country. Education, which is the future of every country, is a field of disgraceful transactions. Based on a law passed by former Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou (which was just revoked), students participated in the vote to elect their deans, and “sold” their votes in exchange for prior knowledge of the examination topics and positions for doctoral dissertations.
All these years, with political cover, farmers cheated the EU by claiming fields that they did not cultivate, and by submitting false production data in order to receive subsidies. The monies of European taxpayers were not used in order to upgrade and modernize cultivation methods, but instead were turned into expensive cars and parties in provincial nightclubs.
In such an orgy of illegality, it is not surprising that the greatest outlaw is the State itself, which does not apply the laws it passes. The Greek State never pays on time, leading businesses to bankruptcy and entrepreneurs to suicide (and I refer to real cases), does not respect any agreement, does not return owed VAT (it currently owes 6 billion Euro), and any citizen that legally turns against the State is ruined economically by the “Justice” system, which takes 20 years to decide on a simple indemnification request.
There are private lands that the Greek State has seized since 1990 under the expropriation law, but the State has not as yet compensated the owners, although the Law requires it to do so. At the same time, for many years now, public lands are illegally appropriated and sold by gangs consisting of employees of the Planning and Forestry Services, in collaboration with corrupt lawyers, public notaries and political “godfathers”.
The illegal revenues of public employees working in “rich” tax offices are so large that, just before retirement, positions of directors in such tax areas are sold to the highest bidder among the directors from “poorer” areas. The transaction closes by a last minute voluntary mutual transfer.
No ethical and decent person accepts to work in such an environment. Thus, the public sector has been taken over by the armies of the political parties who, regardless of the party to which they belong, share common characteristics:
- They feel that they are being paid to support the member of parliament who arranged for their appointment, and not to offer their services to the community
- Most of them are uneducated and of low intelligence, with no ability, as well as no desire to work
- Having a close relationship with the authorities, they act above the Law and feel that whatever they do their political friends will cover for them
- The most enterprising of them exploit the confusing overlap of the multiplicity of laws and the labyrinthine bureaucracy to setup schemes that steel from the public coffers, while the less well connected simply extort money from citizens just to do their work. This widespread bribe has been baptized by the people as the "speed fee". If not paid, the case of the citizen will surely be left to stagnate in the bureaucracy for years or even decades!
It is obvious that the INTEREST of the politicians is to maintain the status quo of extortion and lawlessness. Illegal house construction and tax evasion are flagrant examples and merit case studies. Allow me to explain more comprehensively, because the essence lies in the details.
Illegal house constructions
In Greece, there has never been any comprehensive town planning. The first illegal houses were built after the civil war, in the decade of the 50’s, mainly by persecuted leftists who left their villages and tried to rebuild their lives in the anonymity of Athens. However, since then, illegal houses were built by anyone, anywhere: on beaches, forests, public lands, burned areas, or by illegally appropriating properties owned by others; often people that could not monitor their properties as, for example, emigrants to America. Many of these illegal constructions serve real housing needs: obviously, Athens in 2011 cannot live within the same limits as the Athens of 1950, and the additional population must be accommodated somewhere. But the official Greek State never defined where and how one can build. Greece is the only EU country that still does not have a National Land Registry. Whenever an honest politician took the initiative to solve the problem, as did the late Anthony Tritsis in 1983, he found himself pushed out from the government. Is this crazy? No it is not… For more than 30 years, illegal construction is a huge business, with billions of Euro of annual turnover, naturally all “black”. The money goes to gangs of public functionaries who are bribed to “look the other way”, public servants working in urban planning, prefectures, municipalities, forestry services, the power company, water companies, sewage companies and so on... In areas where illegal construction is commonplace, there are advertisements in local papers by middlemen who promise to "arrange the matter" with electricity, water service, etc.
The Greek State itself uses the illegal housing settlers as “hostages”, every time it needs additional revenue. In the Act of 1983, Anthony Tritsis clearly defined strict terms for legalizing illegal houses built until then, and all illegal houses from that date onwards should have been demolished. However, it has been estimated that, since 1983, in Attica alone, more than 100,000 illegal houses have been built. Guess how many of them were demolished: none! Every 5-6 years the same comedy is played out: the Greek State needs money and proclaims that “this is it; pay a certain fine and legalize your house that was built illegally and, from now on, every illegal house will be demolished". Naturally, the current government played the same charade: in April 2010 it formed an authority for the demolition of illegal houses. The authority went with the Prime Minister and TV crews and demolished an old and abandoned nightclub! That was it! Soon enough, the Government needed money and repeated the same trick with the illegal house owners: “pay and we will not bother you”! The most troubling thing of all is that those who pay do not obtain an official legalization paper, but only a suspension from demolition for 30 years! And, as if all these tricks were not enough, the Council of State issued a decision that all illegal houses built after the Act of 1983 must be demolished, and all laws from 1983 forward that legitimize money collection for legalizing illegal houses are unconstitutional! Schizophrenia!
In civilized countries, taxes are being paid in order to finance public services, which are supposed to serve and protect the citizens. In Greece, according to credible surveys, 85% of the taxes are used to pay for illegal appointments to Government jobs, bribery and wasteful expenses. The construction of a highway costs 6 times more than one built with the same standards in any other EU country. The taxation system itself is unfair, paranoid and contradictory, and it changes every few months. In only the year 2011, it was changed eleven times, yes, eleven times, with different taxation systems announced again and again! It is impossible for even the employees in the tax offices to learn and understand all these changes. Citizens feel like victims of gang extortion: they must pay because the Greek State will harm them if they do not, while at the same time they fully know that their money ends up in the pockets of politicians and their friends. The people must save money in order to bribe the taxman that will audit them, the physician that will operate on them or a member of their family , and then there is the employee that will provide the “service". As a result, people feel that tax evasion is both logical and morally legitimate.
The dominant ideology championed by “PASOK” and by the Stalinist leftist parties (but also embraced by the other big political party, “New Democracy”) is very simple: “entrepreneurs are enemies of the people” and “profit is theft”. There is no other place in Europe where business is treated with such overt hostility. Excessive regulation, scores of different authorities involved in the setup of any business, employees in local authorities opposed to anything that disturbs their nirvana, ecologists discovering that the blades of the windmills disturb the bees (true story!), all can file an action against any proposed investment, and the courts, eager to avoid looking "capital friendly", order a suspension of operations... Billions of potential investments are turned away. The companies that manage to operate in the existing environment face a continuous war by the incredibly absurd and paranoid laws and by the State Auditors who demand some “grease” (the popular Greek expression for bribe money), while the institutional framework is constantly changing, so that they never know what will happen the next day. Moreover, instead of rewarding those who declare their full income, the Greek State sucks their blood every time it needs income with outrageously high predatory tax rates.
There is also the immoral and stupid system of “settling taxes” – a pure Greek invention. Since the Greek State cannot manage to collect the taxes due, every 2-3 years it “offers” the taxpayers to pay a fixed amount for each year of taxes due, in exchange for settling their taxes without auditing. Every time this is done, the Government states that it will be the last time, but in practice it repeats it every 2 to 3 years. Obviously, those who have concealed very high amounts pay willingly, and those who have cheated a little pay with some discomfort. Now, for the honest citizens who are legitimate and have declared their full income, a climate of fear is cultivated that, if they do not pay the extra tax, they will be audited and forced to pay large fines and bribes. So, even though they know that their accounts are in order and that they are cheated, many opt to pay; a cruel injustice. Essentially, the Greek State itself leads to tax evasion. Flagrant cases (doctors, lawyers, union leaders) can be easily caught by a simple comparison of their assets against their declared incomes. Why is this never done by any government? Because they would have to open their own accounts! It is a true story that when a reporter began filming (with a hidden camera) corrupt public servants, the Parliament acted with “unprecedented” speed and passed a law that prohibits the disclosure of such material, prohibits the courts from accepting such material as evidence, and punishes any journalist that resorts to such actions for unlawful disclosure of personal information! If an investigation is too bothersome, the solution is murder, as recently happened to the controversial and meddlesome reporter Socratis Giolias.
Just recently, the usage of software systems in some areas of the public administration (most public services are still without software systems) revealed incredible facts. About 4500 dead people (some of them dead since 1975...) continue to receive pension payments! No one bothered to ask, just out of curiosity, who is that old guy, born in 1890, who is still going to the bank every month to collect his pension check! They have also discovered an industry that produced “disabled” people, with the help of corrupt physicians and other public officials. A disability pension due to blindness was being paid to an active football goalkeeper!
The Government has not as yet canceled either the lifetime pensions granted to unmarried daughters of military officers, or pensions to people that claim participation in the resistance during World War II, even if they were not yet born at that time! The State is still paying a full pension to women who retire after only 15 years of work if they have at least one child, 45-year old military officers, and 55-year old civil servants... The Greek Army has more retired generals than the US Army!
The word “punishment” does not exist in the vocabulary of the Public Administration. Some typical cases mentioned in the most recent report of the Inspector General of Public Administration, Mr. Leandros Rakintzis, an active and honest senior justice official, tried to bring to light some typical cases:
An internist at a general hospital of the National Health System was repeatedly leaving his post, and leaving as his replacement young doctors with much less experience. As a result, a patient introduced with a headache died because of a misdiagnosis. Penalty: None!
An auditor at a municipality was found guilty for a shortage of Euro 59.200.000. Penalty: None!
An employee at a university, responsible for purchasing heating oil, was ordering huge quantities, which he stole and sold in the black market. The fraud amounted to 7,000,000 Euro! Penalty: None!
Two tax authority auditors stole more than Euro 18 million between 1996 and 2001! Penalty: 6 months suspension from their duties!
The reason for not punishing these very serious cases of corruption is obvious: there are lots of accomplices at the higher levels of the administration. The employee that gets caught is usually a "junior" member of the gang, with the “godfathers” being the directors, the “directors” who were placed in such positions of trust to administer the law and punish corruption!
Even though, for many years, Mr. Rakintzis has submitted reports proposing statutory changes to prevent corruption, none of his recommendations have ever been adopted by the Greek State! The belief that “the state money is ours” is so deeply rooted in the minds of the public robbers that even the latest universal wage cuts imposed by the government have, in actuality, led to an increased cost in most public authorities! Is this strange? Not at all… Employees make sure that, to outweigh the loss of income, fake certificates are produced claiming participation in committees, overtime work, government business abroad, etc. For example, a director from the Ministry of Health participated, for an extra fee, in no less than 31 committees!
According to Deputy Prime Minister Mr. Pangalos, the Public Agency AGROGI, from 1998 until 2009, had only 73 employees. Suddenly, during a weekend just before the general election of 2009, it hired 269 more employees! The official responsible for this was no less than the Minister of Justice (2008) and later Minister of Agricultural Development (2009), Mr. Sotiris Hatzigakis.
“Luckily, we work in shifts and do not have to punch an attendance card, so people rarely come to the office. Because, if they all come at the same time, there will not be sufficient chairs for all of them to sit in, and there would be a huge traffic jam by the employees’ cars waiting to enter the underground parking of the Parliament”, a union leader says, referring to his colleagues working as employees in the Parliament building. So, one would think that appointments of relatives of members of Parliament would have stopped? Wrong! For example, with a joint decision of Mrs. Marilisa Xenogiannakopoulou (PASOK party) and the Chairman of the Parliament, Mr. Philip Petsalnikos (also PASOK party), Mrs. Sofia Andritsopoulou (former typist and secretary at a hospital) was appointed as a permanent employee at the Parliament, while there was absolutely no need for more employees. For the record, Mrs. Andritsopoulou is the wife of Mr. Leonidas Grigorakis, also a Member of Parliament (PASOK party).
Who will puncture and drain this abscess? For sure, not those that have created it!
But even if they wanted it, none of the political parties in Greece can change the system. This is because the proper administration of the country requires approximately 2000 senior public servants who will undertake to promote and enforce the necessary reforms, but neither the Public Administration nor the political parties have them. All these years of corruption have kept qualified, accomplished and honest people away from public life. And, the political parties have the same staff for over 20 years. Why would an honest, skilled person deal with crooks and embark upon a foolish and vain effort to do honest work in the most absurd bureaucratic structure of the world since the fall of the Eastern Bloc?
A typical example is the appointment of general managers of public hospitals by the present government: less than one third of them had any management experience, less than 10% of them had any relevant training. Among the general managers that were appointed to run public hospitals, was a teacher of theology, a teacher of literature, a geologist, a naval architect, a nutritionist, a chemist, a customs employee, an electrician...
What about George Papandreou? What does he do? Even if he wants to change the situation (although he does not show any such intentions), he cannot. The obstacle is his political party (PASOK). He is an honest man with good intentions, but he lacks leadership qualities. He could be an excellent politician in Sweden or Canada, but he is completely unsuitable to fight with the monsters created in the party by his father, Andreas Papandreou (founder of PASOK and three times Prime Minister). He depends principally on the support of the very ones he should expel, and even send to prison. Akis Tsochatzopoulos, a man who came close to becoming Prime Minister back in 1996 (when Andreas Papandreou passed away), is well known for receiving bribes. Everyone knew, George Papandreou obviously knew, but he only “punished” him by excluding him from being a candidate in the past election. Such rigor! Since everyone is steeped in corruption, they all hold each other’s hand. It is no coincidence that the Act for Liability of Ministers includes a status of limitation that erases any illegal action after 5 years, not only for the ministers, but for their spouses as well!!! This act, which was voted on by the two large political parties, was drafted by Mr. V. Venizelos, the present Minister of Finance, and the Minister of Justice at that time, in collaboration with the current Chairman of the Parliament, Mr. Philip Petsalnikos!
Do not be surprised that there is no political consensus in Greece. The explanation is simple: the differences between political parties were never ideological. In any given time period, the opposition opposes any position of the government just to wear them out, become government and take its turn in stealing public funds...
In our country, we now have, on one side, the continuous refusal to implement any reform by the mafia-style Greek State, and, on the other side, the low quality members of PASOK and the left parties. We even have half of the government members against privatization, which they are legally supposed to enforce! We have the union leaders bound to PASOK, those who consider the public service as their own "field” and who go on strike against any attempt to change the unacceptable privileges, not even caring that the country is plunging into chaos. We have strikes that are evidently illegal, but no one enforces the law. We have the bullies of the strike force of the communist party, who, whenever they decide to do so, prevent ships to sail, prevent employees to go to work, block roads and ports and ancient monuments...
If I were you, I would say "let this awful country go to hell”. We, decent and lawful Greeks, are grateful that you have not, as yet, done so. We are grateful for your continuing support. But to be able to repay you and repay the debt accumulated by the incompetence and the corruption of our politicians, we kindly ask you to force them to do just one thing: to change this monstrous Greek State that they have created, to revoke the privileges of political party ”customers” who are appointed with unbelievable salaries and benefits, to force them to implement standards of financial transparency for all public transactions. If you do not force them, there is absolutely no chance that they will do it by themselves! Do not give them more money, not a cent, without these conditions, because they will steal it!
Despite all this bad situation, Greece can still thrive, as thousands of Greek immigrants thrived in countries such as yours. Once the Greek State stops strangling those who have ideas, those that have the strength and the desire to produce, Greece will flourish. Help us get there. Do not let corrupt and incompetent politicians deceive you, humiliate us and deprive the world from the future wealth that the true Greek spirit can provide – the one that has never faded in this country.