Greece: Interview with Transparency leader

politics | Aug 1, 2008 | By Harry Papachristou

The Greek chapter of Transparency International, an international, non-governmental organisation against corruption, announced on July 21 an initiative to raise public awareness and unite citizens, politicians and businessmen in an "Open Social Alliance For Integrity and Transparency''.

Part of the initiative is to disseminate a list of recommendations called "Ten Commandments For Active Citizens''. Transparency urges Greeks to report their adherence to the list by clicking into its website, www.transparency.gr. The commandments include slogans such as "corruption isn't cool''; "we have a right to know''; "we observe the law anywhere, anytime and we demand that everybody around us does the same''.

Separately, the group is calling politicians to subscribe to a code of moral conduct, reduce the scope of current rules that make them exempt from persecution and set transparent rules for the financing of political parties. Private business is urged to boost corporate governance, protect whistle-blowers and increase the independence of non-executive board members.

Costas Bakouris says the laws we have are for the most part adequate and suggests that people need to press for their enforcement.

Q: Why do we have such a lack of transparency in Greece?

A: The biggest problem is that lack of transparency has almost become part of our culture. Many Greeks have accepted that they need to bribe to get the job done. On the one hand, there's indignation about the situation. But on the other hand, it's also tolerated. Our country has arguably the highest degree of tolerance towards corruption in the world. People often sympathise with corrupt officials, they say "the poor guy's in jail, what will become of his three children now,'' etc. So, the challenge is to create a new society and make people realise the great risks involved in corruption. Separately, law enforcement officials and political leaders need to be convinced that anti-corruption laws need to be strictly enforced. Our new campaign focusses on these two aspects. Corruption isn't an issue of class struggle or of party-political bickering - it's a national issue.

Q: Corrupt officials on the one hand, popular tolerance on the other. How can we break this vicious cycle?

A: Leaders, not just politicians, must set the example. In order to change, society needs role models and motives. If change doesn't come from above, society won't follow. All the big words we usually hear when a scandal breaks out, that there will be a full investigation and that authorities will get to the bottom of things: people need to see them happening in reality.

Q: But corruption isn't surely just a Greek phenomenon.

A: Of course not. But in other countries the law is enforced, in some places more harshly than in others. People go to jail, whether rich or poor, black or white. We haven't yet seen anything like that in this country. There have been lots of words against corruption but we haven't seen a swift, fair and efficient system to dispense justice. Bad people just need to get punished. Until people improve in coming generations through better education, society must protect itself with the help of the law.

Q: What is the object of your new campaign?

A: First of all, we want to see how many Greeks will subscribe to our ten commandments, register and put their signature on them. This will give us greater leverage with politicians whom we'll subsequently visit to make them commit to the transparency principles that apply to them. That's how we'll create an alliance between all Greeks.

Q. To judge from newspaper reports and opinion polls, I would think that there's alread



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