Tuesday, October 25, 2011

An open letter to Chancellor Merkel from a Greek

Original source in greek at www.capital.gr.

Your Excellence,

Thank you for the continuous effort you make to offer blood to Greece, but as you understand this will not have any effect unless the bleeding source is treated first: the corrupt, wasteful, and hostile to any productive initiative, Greek State. Since you haven’t found yourself in a Greek public authority asking for a simple certificate, you are not in a position to imagine the extent of corruption and the extent of the absurdity of this Kafkaesque mechanism. The Greek State which mainly consists of former bill poster of the two big political parties, this very Greek State eats the bowels of the capacity of this country like the vultures did into Aeschylus' tragedy “Prometheus Bound".

I want to assure you that there are two different Greece’s. Greece is not only crooks politicians and bureaucrats who have made us feel ashamed for our country. Greece has a huge potential of intelligent, creative and ethical people who are getting strangled every day by the political parties’ mafia. While in Italy the Mafia deals with the state, in Greece Mafia is the Greek State itself! All these years, politicians in collaboration with public works contractors (who are also owners of media organizations…) shamelessly steal the EU subsidies and the taxes from those Greeks that can’t evade taxation, while offering outrageous immunity to any of their related gangsters.

What would you do if the taxman that came to check your business finds everything in perfect order, but then tells you that he can’t go back to his office "empty handed", and that he should definitely find something to give you a fine so he can get his “tip”? Yet there are many former civil servants who resigned because they could not bear to spend their entire lives in an office without doing absolutely anything at all except favors and illegalities with the blessing of their political patron!

There isn’t a single thing today in Greece to give the impression of a western country. Education, every country’s future, is a field of shameful transactions since the students (based on a law created by former Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou, which law has just been revoked) used to participate in voting for Universities’ Deans and Headmasters and were “selling” their votes in exchange for examination topics and positions for PhD dissertations…

Farmers, with huge political backing throughout all these years, cheated the EU by claiming false production yield in order to earn the EU agricultural grants, while the money of European taxpayers, instead of being used to reform cultivation techniques and modernize production, were spent on luxurious cars and parties in nightclubs.

In such an orgy of illegality, it’s not surprising at all the fact that the largest illegal in Greece is the Greek State, for not following the laws that it created itself! The Greek State never pays on time, leading businesses to bankruptcy and entrepreneurs to suicide (true, based on facts), does not respect any agreement, does not return owed VAT (currently owes 6 billion EUR) and, if any citizen legally turns against it he is economically exterminated by the " Greek Justice" which needs about 20 years to complete a simple claim.

Did you know that there are private lands that the Greek State has earmarked for expropriation since 1990 but has not yet compensated the owners, although law enforces to do? At the same time, for many years, public lands are being appropriated and sold by public sector employees working for urban planning and forest divisions, in collaboration with perjurer lawyers, public notaries and political 'godfathers'.

It is so large the revenue of corrupt public sector employees that are directors of some very busy tax offices who gathered lots of money and right before retirement they “auction” their position to the highest bidder among directors of smaller and less busy tax offices! Typically, this “transaction” is covered by mutual transfer.

There is no moral and decent person who is willing to work in such an environment. Thus, the public sector is occupied by the “armies” of political parties who, regardless of the party they belong, share some common characteristics:
- They consider that they are being paid because they support the Member of Parliament who appointed them, and not because they offer their services to the public.
- Most of them are uneducated and of low intelligence, with no ability and willingness to work.
- Having close encounters with the political power, they act above laws and they feel that whatever they do will be covered by their political friends.
- The most cunny of them exploit the existence of so many laws and the labyrinthine bureaucracy to setup ways for stealing millions of euros from public funds, while those who are not so well networked require money (bribe) from citizens just to do their job. This illegal yet widespread bribery habit is known as the "fast operation stamp". If not paid to the public sector employee, citizen’s case will be left to stagnate in the vast morass of bureaucracy for years or even decades!

It is obvious that the interest of politicians is to maintain this status of extortion and lawlessness. Two cases, illegal house constructions and tax evasion, are case studies alone. Allow me to comment further on them, because the essence lies in details…

Illegal house constructions

In Greece, there was never any kind of planning for house construction. The first illegal houses were built during the 50’s, right after the Civil War, mainly by leftists who tried to rebuild their lives in the anonymity of Athens. But then illegal houses were built by anyone, anywhere: beaches, forests, public land, burned areas, or violating other properties. Many of these serve real housing needs: obviously, Athens during 2011 can’t have the same limits with Athens of 1950, and excess population should be accommodated somewhere. But official Greek State never defined where and how you can build. Greece is the only EU country that doesn’t have yet a National Land Registrar. Whenever an honest politician took the initiative, as Anthony Tritsis (not in life anymore) did in 1983, he was expelled by the government. Is it weird? No it isn’t… Illegal houses are, for more than 30 years, a huge industry with billion euros of annual revenues - naturally black, which goes to gangs of public sector employees in urban planning, prefectures, municipalities, Forestry Services, Electricity, Water, Sewage etc. so they "turn away their eyes". Indeed, at locations with illegal houses, there are ads from mediators who promise to "arrange the matter" with Electricity and Water services etc.

Also, the Greek State itself uses illegal house settlers as “hostages” every time it needs additional revenue. According to 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 be demolished. 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 you can see the same “play”: Greek State needs money and says "that’s enough; pay some to save your illegally built houses, and from now on every illegal house will be demolished". Even the current government played the same charade: in April 2010 they formed an authority for illegal houses demolition, which went with the Prime Minister and some TV crews and demolished an old and abandoned nightclub! That's it! Soon enough they needed money and repeated the same trick with illegal house owners: “pay and we will not bother you”! The most annoying of all: those who will pay will not get an official legalization paper, but 30 years suspension from demolition! And as if all those were not enough, a decision of the Council of State says that all illegal houses after Act of 1983 should be demolished and considers as unconstitutional all laws from 1983 onwards that legitimize money collection for legalizing illegal houses! Schizophrenia!

Tax evasion

In civilized countries, taxes are being payed not because God said it, but in order to finance public services which are supposed to serve and protect the citizens. In Greece, according to official surveys, 85% of taxes result in illegal appointments, bribery and prodigal expenses. The construction of a highway costs 6 times more than one with the same standards in any another EU country. As about what kind of services are offered to citizens, I have already written enough. The taxation system itself is unfair, paranoid and contradictory, and changes every few months. In year 2011 only, 11 – yes, eleven! - different taxation systems were announced! It’s impossible for tax authorities’ employees to learn and understand all these changes, while citizens feels like any victim of armed gang extortions: they must pay because the Greek State will hurt them if they don’t, knowing that their money will end up in the pockets of politicians and their friends. Also they must save money to pay the taxman that will check them, the physician that will handle the surgery, the employee that will "serve". Therefore, tax evasion gets both logical and moral legitimacy, like a Sicilian who refuses to give money to the Sicilian Mafia.

The dominant ideology imposed by ”PASOK” and by the Stalinist leftish parties (also embraced by the other big political party ”Nea Dimokratia”) is very simple: ”enterpreneurs are enemies of the people” and ”profit is thievery”. There is no place in Europe (at least) where business is treated with such overt hostility. Overregulation, hundreds 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!) and file an action against, courts avoiding to seem "capital friendly" order a suspension of operations... all these have actually sent off billions of investment. Those companies that manage to operate in the existing environment, face a continuous war by the incredibly absurd and paranoid law, by the auditors who ask for some ”lubricant” (the popular Greek expression for bribe money), while the institutional framework is constantly changing so they never know what will happen tomorrow. On top of that, instead of rewarding those who declare their full income, the Greek State literally sucks their blood every time it needs income, with incredible predatory tax rates.

Here is the immoral and stupid, macroeconomic, system of "closing issues" – a pure Greek patent: since the Greek State can’t receive the money fro taxes, every 2-3 years asks the taxpayers to pay a fixed amount for each year and consider these years checked and found OK! Every time they say that it’s ”the last time” they do this, but they do it every 2-3 years! Obviously those who have concealed very high amounts pay willingly, those who have hidden only a few pay with discomfort, and those who are legitimate and declare their full income feel cheated and have the constant fear that will be audited and that they will not get through it without "giving something" . Essentially, the Greek State itself leads to tax evasion, while flagrant cases (doctors, lawyers, trade unionists) can be easily caught by just comparing their assets with tax returns and bank accounts. Why is this never decided by any government? Because they will hardly avoid opening of their own accounts! It is a true story that, when a reporter began filming (with hidden camera) corrupted public sector employees, the House of Parliament acted with unprecedented speed and created a law that prohibits the disclosure of such material, prohibits Courts of law from accepting such material as evidence, and punishes the journalist for unlawful disclosure of personal information! If such an investigation bothers, the solution is to murder, as recently happened with the controversial but annoying reportes Socratis Giolias.

Just recently, the usage of software systems in some areas of Public Administration (most public services are still without software systems) revealed incredible things. About 4500 dead people (some of them being dead since 1975...) continued to receive payments! No one asks, just out of curiosity, who is that very old guy born in 1890(!) who is still thriving and goes every month to the bank to collect his pension! Also, they discovered the business which ”produces” supposedly "disabled" people, involving doctors and other officials, which gave a disability pension due to blindness, to an active football team goalkeeper!

Nobody has yet canceled the lifetime pensions given to unmarried daughters of officers,neither pensions to people that claim participation to resistance during World War II, even if they were not born that time! People that still retire with full pension are: women who worked only 15 years if they have at least one child, 45-year old military officers, 55-year old civil servants... The Greek Army has more retired Generals than the US Army!

The word ”punishment” does not belong into the vocabulary of 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 Supreme Judicial, trying to illuminate something:

Pathologist in a General Hospital of National Health System,was continuously and purposly leaving his post, setting as a replacemet young doctors with much less experience. As a result, a patient introduced with headache died because of misdiagnosis. Penalty: No!

Employee of a municipality, revenue and expenditure auditor, was found guilty for a deficit of EUR 59,200,000. Penalty: No!

Employee of a university, responsible for receiving oil, was ordering huge quantities which then stole and sold in the black market. This costed the university 7,000,000 Euros! Penalty: No!

Two tax authority auditors stole more than 18 million euros 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 and at the higher levels of administration. The employee that appears to have liability is usually a "junior" member of the gang and "godfathers" are the directors, those who should punish corruption!

The most surprising is that for many years Mr. Rakintzis submits such reports proposing statutory changes to prevent a breeding ground of corruption, but none of them was ever adopted by the Greek State! It is so deeply rooted in the Public Robbers’ the belief that "the state money is mine" that even the latest horizontal wage cut imposed by the government to Public Sector payroll led to increased costs in most authorities! Is this weird? Not at all… Employees made sure to outweigh the loss of revenues by signing fake certificates that they participated in committees and that they worked overtime or abroad etc. For example, director from the Ministry of Health participated for an extra fee in 31 committees!

According to Deputy Prime Minister Mr. Pangalos, the Public Agency AGROGI, from 1998 until 2009, had only 73 employees. Suddenly, in a weekend just before the general elections election of 2009, hired 269 more employees! Who was responsible for this? Secretary of Justice (2008) and Secretary Agricultural Development (2009) Mr. Sotiris Hatzigakis.

"Luckily, we work in shifts and don’t have to punch a card, so people may rarely come in the office. Because if they come altogether, not only they will be without a chair, but they would create a traffic jam with cars waiting to enter the underground parking of the House of Parlaiment”, a union leader says, referring to his colleagues working as employees in the House of parlaiment. So, you think that appointments of relatives of Members of Parlaiment as employees in the House of Parlaiment has stopped? Wrong! For example, with a joint decision of Mrs Marilisa Xenogiannakopoulou (PASOK party) and Chairman of the House Mr. Philip Petsalnikos (also PASOK party), Mrs Sofia Andritsopoulou (former typist and secretary at a hospital) was appointed as a permanent employee at the House of Parlaiment while there was no need for more employees. For the record, Mrs Andritsopoulou is the wife of the Member of the Parliament Mr. Leonidas Grigorakis (PASOK party).

Who will break this abscess? Foor sure, not those who created it!

But even if they wanted, none of the political parties in Greece can change the system. And this because the proper administration of a country requires approximately 2000 senior government officials in the Public Administration who will undertake to promote and enforce reforms where necessary, but neither the Public Administration nor the political parties have them. All these years of corruption have sent away from public life all skillful and honest people. All political parties have almost the same staff for over 20 years. Why would an honest, skilful person deal with crooks, discuss with foolish and vain struggle with the most absurd bureaucratic structure of the world after the fall of the Eastern Bloc?

Typical example, the appointment of directors of public hospitals as it was done by the present government: less than one third of them has management experience, less than 10% of them has relevant training. So, as directors were appointed: theology teacher, literature teacher, geologist, naval architect, nutritioner, chemist, former customs conrol employee, electrician...

And George Papandreou? What does he do? Even if he wants to change the situation (although he doesn’t show any such intentions) he can’t. The obstacles exist in his very own political party (PASOK). He is an honest man with good intentions, but he lacks leadership. He would be an excellent politician in Sweden or Canada, but he is completely unsuitable to mess with the pit bulls raised in the political party by his father (founder of PASOK and 3 times Prime Minister). He is depending on those who he should exclude for ever from politics and even sent them to prison. Akis Tsochatzopoulos, a man who came close becoming Prime Minister back in 1996 (when Andreas papandreou passed away) was well known to receive bribes. Everyone knew, George Papandreou obviously knew, but he "punished" him by excluding him from candidates in previous elections. Such rigor! Since everyone is steeped in corruption, each one holds each others hand. It is no coincidence that the Act for Liability of Ministers erases any illegal or offensive act after 5 years, not only for Ministers but for their partners as well! This Act was voted by the two big political parties and it was created by a collaboration of Mr. V.Venizelos, present Minister of Finance, and Minister of Justice at that time and current Chairman of the House, Philip Petsalnikos!

Don’t be surprised that there isn’t a political consensus in Greece. The explanation is simple: the differences between political parties were never ideological. At anny 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...

On one side of the continuous denial to any reform is the mafia-style Greek State, and on the other side the low quality members of PASOK and the Left parties. Half the government is against privatization, which they are supposed to enforce! Union's leaders bound to PASOK, those who considered the public service as their own "field”, go on strike against any attempt to change the unacceptable privileges plunging the country into chaos. Strikes are evidently illegal, but no one enforces the law. The bullies of the task force of the communist party, whenever they decide so, they prevent ships to sail, prohibit employees go to work, block roads and ports and ancient monuments...

Your Excellency,

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 (yet) said this and you continue to support us. But to be able to repay you and repay the debt accumulated by the incompetence and the bribery of our politicians, we kindly ask you to force them to do just one thing: to change this monsterus Greek State that they created. To revoke the priviledges of political party ”customers” who are appointed with unbelievable salaries and benefits. Force them to implement standards of financial transparency for all public transactions.If you don’t force them, there is absolytely no chance that they do it by themselves! Don’t give them more money, not a cent, without this condition, because they will steal it!
Your Excellency,

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 and mood and productive vigor, Greece will flourish. Help us get there. Don’t let corrupt and incompetent politicians to deceive you, humiliate us and to deprive the world from the future wealth that can provide the true Greek spirit – the one that never faded in this place.

© Thanos Tzimeros

Translated to english by an anonymous blog reader and an anonoymous Greek.

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