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Thursday 1 January 2009

"the horror" - how corruption works

...the principle of 'anti-kinship' present in the ‘theoretical’ contrast between 'universalistic' (that is rational) and particularistic (non-rational) systems reflects the horror of nepotism that once held together a part of the British flag of empire. It is still held by some industrial observers to distinguish between ‘developed’ and ‘underdeveloped’ countries. (Leyton,E.(ed) (1974) 'The Compact: Selected Dimensions of Friendship', Newfoundland Social and Economic Papers No.3, Institute of Social and Economic Research, Memorial University of Newfoundland (University of Toronto) p.111, 112) quoted in a paper I wrote on trust in government in 1996.
Horror will do. It's my view. Though he didn't call it that, I was taught about corruption by my Philhellene dad on my first visit to Greece when I was 16. After he'd explained the differences between Greek and Turkish coffee - one's called 'Greek' and the other 'Turkish' and "while your here, don't ever forget which is which". "Here's some local wine fermented in pine barrels. Try a sip. You'll love it or hate it." He explained that what makes the music so so so... is that you can't tell whether it's eastern or western; Islamic or Christian..."and it was often forbidden." "Greece has been enriched by being uncertain whether it's east or west for centuries." He respected the ruins and sent me on a week's minibus tour I'll never forget, but it was modern Greece that held his heart and mind. "You'll be at the custom house to get a parcel from abroad. An amiable man at the steps outside will ask if he can help with 'paperwork' and as you hesitate offers to have your parcel with you in 20 minutes - for a small fee. This is easily and openly paid by a foreigner, unsure of the local bureaucracy and the language. You depart with your parcel - after a grateful handshake and relaxed wait in the foyer, well apart from the milling crowd. Corruption is so nice and easy. Some would call it "ethnic" now. You can fool yourself it's a win-win situation. It's really queue jumping. (See Annex 5: Case Study - Greece)
[Back to the future 12/01/09: I just came across an op-ed (now disappeared) by Mark Dragoumis in Athens News of Friday 5th December 08 which led me to the famous blog of the late Amalia Kalyvinou - probably the most influential agent for potential good in the Hellenic health 'system - English version. (see also and also) Writes Dragoumis: 'Ruling without rules should, at long last, be ruled out' ~ Many Greeks do know from experience that there is no better fuel to make the state run smoothly than the 'fakellaki' (Φακελάκι fakelaki = little envelope, or bag, containing the requisite bribe). What this columnist has found to his amazement, though, is that this situation has led to the emergence of informal 'networks of honesty and efficiency' in Greece - profound irony. See also. Note on 31 May 2010 - some of these links have been deleted or restricted at source - Search for Amalia Kalyvinou and/or Αμαλία Καλυβίνου. Example of how the web can be made indelible despite efforts]

I recall a first mate on an oil tanker, on which I studied, saying that by the time you realise you are getting bribed you've already been long paid. It usually happens when you dock. Customs and immigration complete their paperwork on board. You repair for a drink with the skipper. The conversation lingers as you enjoy the refills, instead of doing what the first officer should be doing, after docking, which is keeping an eagle eye on the deck as your crew and shore workers merge at the quay. "Do you have any idea of the value of a 10 metres of cable or the other stuff that lies loose on a ship's deck? It's better now with off-shore loading and roll-on roll-off and container cargoes. There's less access. Now the crime's inside the boxes. In those day's you'd depart and then open a drawer in your cabin and find an envelope. To whom do you give it back? The skipper will say 'what the hell are you doing with that you idiot?' No giving it back, no convincing explanation. You're at sea. So so easy and no-one seems to be getting hurt." On our second visit to Corfu in November 2006 we stayed overnight at the welcoming Carpe Diem hostel in Brindisi - a good point of transit for many British travellers going regularly to Corfu by train, plane and ferry. We met an English Corfu hotellier heading home, who told us she was selling up. "You'll love Corfu" she said. "People will be good, welcoming, generous - all the things you could hope for on top of the beautiful landscape. You're harvest. But if ever, like me, you decide to have a go at harvesting, you'll see a whole other side of things in Paradise." She listed the ways officials could and had made her life difficult - an exhausting escalation of obfuscation; of laws enforced that weren't enforced on others, and laws not enforced in her case while being used to protect others. "My problem is simple. I won't pay to make my life easier. I've struggled for ten years and done quite well but I'm giving up now and my daughter needs me in England. It's not a Greek-English thing, don't get me wrong. It's who pays and who doesn't. Greeks are as much victims as foreigners." My closest encounter with this kind of crime was the Birmingham vote-rigging scandal, in which I seemed to know a great number of those involved, both those like Raghib Ahsan who helped initiate the enquiry that led to the electoral court, and my neighbour, two houses up, Mohammed Afzal, who was implicated by the electoral court and cleared on appeal. Apart from attending sessions at Richard Mawrey's electoral court, I watched this rot filtering through the area's labour party and felt rather useless. You can do so much door to door leafleting, sending letters to the press, signing petitions, supporting your beleagured friends - but its worse than wading through chilled treacle to pin down the attitude of mind that doesn't feel the shame or 'the horror'. For me corruption is on a par with crimes that attract greater attention - akin to rape, child abuse, theft with violence, especially as it's not disconnected from these loathsome acts. So there, I've moved from a cheery memory of my dad telling me about speeding up procedures at the Athens custom house to Marcellus' words on the ramparts at Helsingor "Something is rotten in the state of Denmark. What Shakespeare does incomparably in Hamlet - most famously - is to show corruption begun in the domestic polity and metastasising to the state. Hamlet's despair and passion is directed evenly at what's happened in his family as well as in his country. It astonishes me that he should be seen as gloomy rather than justifiably angry - almost incoherently so - at the havoc wrought by the corruption whose full range only emerges as the play proceeds. Shakespeare knew. So did Pinter whose choler at political crime, Private Eye so enjoyed mocking.
Scroll down this link to see Political culture and corruption in Greece: A synergistic relationship by Chronis Polychroniou professor and head of Academic Affairs at Mediterranean University College, University of Teesside (UK) in Athens (see back in the blog; see 13th International Anti-Corruption conference in Athens in November 2008) (See also several reflections on the Greek phenomenon of yearning-burning-earning)

Reading the Barber Institute description of that Nativity scene by Jan de Beer I learn something else about the angel...
... in the foreground with a golden brocade cloak has peacock wings which stand out against his striking auburn hair. The peacock is a traditional symbol of immortality and may point to Christ’s reign on earth. Alternatively, this angel, different to the others, could represent Lucifer, who was at times depicted in the form of an angel with peacock wings...the Devil bears witness to the birth of the child that will bring his downfall.
I've recognised the view in Christian theology that the devil doesn't waste time with those doing evil, but gets close to those most righteous. Does Islam have this view of the intimacy of good and evil? I've asked Dhiaa. It's taken for granted in atheism - no need of a Fall. Corruption and probity in government - far from being in opposition are proximate. I've seen it in an inability - or refusal - to see the importance of distinguishing between being friendly and having a friendship. Codes of conduct in constitutions are written in language too blunt to mark the subtle distinctions between right and wrong where a significant proportion of what passes is wordless. Formal language falters in trying to describe the judgement needed to navigate the moral danger zone where politics and administration overlap, sometimes falling back on that weasel word 'appropriate' or setting rules that may keep a lawyer safe but ignore the art in government. * * * E-mail from home:
Yes - I was at Jill's. Didn't get back till 2.45. Rich. Alice & R's friend came in at about 4.00. They're not up yet! I'm watching Arabian Nights - repeat of the one we saw before. Just got into it and Jo came over for a coffee and a chat. She's not long gone, so I've missed most of it. It's freezing here. I'm keeping the heating on all day - spending your winter fuel allowance. However, I've at last managed to find out rules for home office claim, so that'll save you £40 income tax. L x
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From the Greek eco-forum blog - "In 2009 please fight decadence" - which I take to be another term for corruption...
Society's moral defences are being tested in Greece and in other countries in the world by many ways but mainly through media coverage. Historically and physicaly the biggest defences are in the young minds, which are not yet amalgamated through the modern society mechanisms and finally being passive to accept the destiny that has been imposed to by others. In many periods of the human history, people had revolted or at least protested against the implicit order to accept the destiny as it is. Many religions has exploited that feeling and tried to find good grounds to make their dogma respectable. Metaphysics and human norms are constantly interchanging sources of belief that in the end reflects to the human behaviour. However, morality remained constant as an idea and as a social movement by adapting social and economic changes. Moral issues are correlated with the social cohesion and the society's resistance in change. Some would argue that young people are more ethical than the older ones and that argument is supported by the fact that young ones are adopting the ideal view of how society should exist and operate and not with what means - the means are left for the more experienced ones. With that in mind, the recent protests in France and in Greece, have common characteristics, both are trying to express the older generation that something in the society is not working properly, there is a big problem and they are desperate to see their voices heard. Justice, Respect and Equality are ideas of the older French revolution and centuries ago of Greek Culture but it is the only way to bridge the gap between the generations and work out together a way out of this social crisis. The state of the environment is the reflection of how important society thinks the next generation is. The current situation is the Ultimum Bottom Line. There is only one way up by working hard all of us together...I wish 2009 will be the start of the new era in the global society with a lot of understanding, cooperation and applying solutions.
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Iason Athanasiades writes more - date 2 January 2009 - sour at his generation's spinelessness: 'Democracy is a Greek word. And so too is apathy…and chaos and tragedy: rather more fitting epithets for the instability churning Greece' (Max Andersson cartoon) but he quotes Jonathan Davies' view that strikes across Greece 'seemingly confound the received wisdom that class struggle is dead.' JD, who I've quoted earlier, sees what's been filmed as the least significant dimension of what's happening, and Athens as a cinematic riot zone has indeed slipped into the past tense, displaced by the shift of media attention to Gaza - the baited bear (CSM Sara Roy 2/01/09)
 * * *
See especially Fouskas:
The future generations that will build the Fourth Hellenic Republic should remember that the Third did not suffer from authoritarianism, but from a lack of institutional norms and rules that are the requisites of every modern polity.
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Back to the future - 10/01/2009: Example of corruption in Norwich City Council. A senior housing officer involved in evicting frail elderly from the their homes allegedly went with other staff to live at preferential rents in accomodation she'd emptied.
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Quote from comments on deviousdiva's blog This is not my Country - 21 November 2007: Greek laws are incomplete and have holes in them so that the authorities can be bribed and so that the politicians can do what is known as “rousfeti”. (The word comes from turkish “rüsvet” and means “favor”, especially favor by a politician in return for a promise to vote them.) And the entire public sector is organized in such a way that anything can be accomplished by “rousfeti”: If something in the law is unclear, it can be made clear by an “order from above”. If an order “from above” violates the law or the regulations, it is the “order from above” which always takes precedence. If the cogs of the bureaucratic machine are rusty, an order “from above” will always oil them and get them to move on. This is, by the way, how the greek term “Λάδωμα” (ladoma) meaning “oiling” was coined to mean “bribery”. So, the politicians see no reason to fix the laws when any deficiencies can be taken care of at any time by means of “rousfeti”. Ha! You thought you knew how a corrupt state works? You really know nothing until you begin to understand how the government and the public sector works in Greece! [Back to the future - 26 March 2009: Corruption uncovered in Brussels by German reporter Hans-Martin Tillack, see 9 Jan '09 story appearing in First Post]
[YouTube clip from July 2009 Leandros Rakintzis, (Λέανδρος Ρακιντζής ) Greece's general inspector of public administration, has identified town-planning offices and state hospitals, followed by municipalities, as the areas of the public sector where corruption is most rife. “The fight against corruption is long, hard and has many obstacles such as the bureaucratic attitude of public servants, various petty interests and the lack of know-how in thwarting techniques used to cover up corrupt practices."
Ο Γενικός Επιθεωρητής Δημόσιας Διοίκησης Λέανδρος Ρακιντζής μιλάει για περιπτώσεις διαφθοράς
[Back to the future: Piece in the Washington Times on 4 January 2010 about the farce playing in Athens called Mother Greece co-written by Giannis Sarakatsanis
"We're lazy, nouveau riche and constantly complaining. Everyone is looking for someone to blame just in order to get it over with, whereas I see a vicious circle that only ends with us."
[Back to the future 31 May 2010: Kathimerini's editorial 'In Corruption's Labyrinth' - a confession to a Parliamentary Select Committee by ex-Transport Minister Tasos Mantelis that he took money from Siemens as a bribe - formally described as election sponsorship - to award them a major IT contract in 1997 while a member of Costas Simitis’s PASOK government, in part to fund his son's studies at Columbia University]
[Back to the future 20 July 2010: Story in The Telegraph 8 July 2010 about Sotirios Hatzigakis, ex-Minister of Justice of the Hellenic Republic]
[10 August 2010: A miscellany of synonyms in the New York Times for 'creative accounting' ]
[7 Nov'11: A Channel 4 programme called Go GreekThree British families try out the tax, pensions and work practices that caused Greece's economic crisis and brought on the austerity measures aimed at cutting the deficit and qualifying for EU bailouts. A 54-year-old British hairdresser discovers the generosity of the Greek pensions system, which still allows hairdressers, pastry chefs, radio continuity announcers and people in almost 600 other jobs to retire aged 53 at 90% of their final salary because their jobs are defined as hazardous. A bus driver reaps the rewards of the Greek approach to state-run services, where bus drivers could be paid up to almost double the national average salary and receive extra bonuses for arriving at work early and for checking bus tickets. And a British surgeon is delighted to discover how paying income tax the Greek way will transform his disposable income. The personal experiences of the three main characters are supported by expert interviews that establish the patterns of tax evasion, corruption and mismanagement that have helped to sink the Greek economy.]
[Back to the future - 1 Jan 2012: 'Debt-pushing' to a whole nation via the corruption of its upper echelons]

1 comment:

  1. This may be a naive thought on my behalf but here goes...

    Having grown up in Greece and lived here all my life, I have come up against various forms of corruption. I also hate it, and find it horrifying. Even in the dlightest cases there is this terrible feeling that you can do nothing about it as the system will "punish" you afterwards. There is a mafia-like feeling to the way the system works. Regarding the "rousfeti" for votes situation, I have always wondered, "how do they know that you will vote for them?" I have even asked those purporting to be in the know, and the answer was "They know"!
    To stop corruption. How? Our MPs get paid so highly and are entitled to such glorious pensions and benefits after only 4 years in office that becoming an MP is not a matter of offering a service to the public, but rather a service to their pocket. Almost all of the MPs of the last 30 years have been involved in some scandal or another. Now that they have the TROIKA over their heads, checking their every move, they are afraid that they cannot continue as they did, yet they lack the political will to make the change. And the reason is that everyone under them will have to change too. It is like a very badly trained drill parade. If one turns they all must, but they just don't know how...
    And of course to change them all for others? Impossible. I had an idea but i doubt it could be made to work. Everyone in the government who wants to keep his position and try for a better Greece, should have to pay a fine, in order to redeem themselves. Then Greece would be better off financially too...


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Simon Baddeley