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When failed politicians look for excuses. By Vangelis Agrapidis

by on August 24, 2012

Recently, in Greece, a top politician from one of the three parties (‘Panhellenic Socialist Movement’ – PASOK) that form the coalition government, Theodoros Pangalos, published a book about the shared responsibility both citizens and the politicians hold for creating such a corrupted state, like Greece. Greece, according to World Bank and Transparency International, has ranked among the three most corrupted European countries since the late ’90s and took the lead in the ’00s. Mr Pangalos, through his book (soon in English), probably thought that explaining why the responsibility is shared between the political system and the electorate, would change the Greeks’ negative attitude against the political institutions and public administration as well as their mindset for avoiding corrupted practices like tax evasion.

However, in a period when Greece’s political and economic dignity is humiliated once more by some media that focus on the government’s deficient reform capacity, Mr Pangalos, one of the oldest – but also one of the most provocative – members of PASOK, decided to publish a book that sheds light on the other side: the society. Given that corruption requires a ‘give-and-take’ situation, both parts should be blamed. But, unfortunately for Mr Pangalos (and other politicians who attempt to get rid of the heavy burden from their shoulders), what really matters is ‘where’ is the starting point for corruption practices and ‘how’ are these practices spread in the sociopolitical and economic system.

Lack of law enforcement: the origins of corruption.

Lawlessness has two serious implications:

a) It leaves unprotected people’s fundamental values and goods, that is their life, freedom and private property.

b) It promotes a state of affairs to the detriment of the law-abiding citizens, while, simultaneously, it maintains a state of affairs in favor of those who break the law.

Both a and b may lead, gradually, from widespread corruption, to erosion of societal bonds and finally, to situations of vigilantism. Focusing on the first stage, the lack of law enforcement occurs in occasions, where both the political authority and the citizens may be involved. For example, illegal parking and ‘free-riders’ on the train regard mainly the citizens; tax evasion or illegal building involves both; illegal offshore companies are related mainly to the political and economic elites. Under this prism, everybody should be blamed for extended corrupted cases: the law is broken by all of us.

However, the responsibility cannot be distributed equally. And this is why the establishment and safeguarding of law both belong to the political authority, not the citizens. Citizens respect and obey to a legislation that – ideally should – serve their interest (‘common good’). But what seems to happen in Greece and to, more or less, other countries that face corruption (ex. Romania, Italy) is that the political authority votes law superficially. ‘Superficially’, because the government is either incapable of or unwilling to enforce and protect these laws. Then, it is on the political system’s ‘field’ to make steps towards a more fair socio-political system: a reform on the judicial system, would be a fundamental step, while a change to a less lenient legislation for politicians’ criminal and civil offences  would increase citizens’ public trust to political institutions.

Citizens’ part: a consequential phenomenon

Since the political authority and its mechanisms for promoting justice do not guarantee the enforcement of law, then the ground is fruitful for the flourish of conditions of imperfect competition, both in the societal and economic sphere. Both the members of a society and the private actors are ‘pushed’ to break the law, in order to make ends meet (for the former) and make progress with their economic ventures (for the latter). It is mainly the political system that sets the rules and the conditions under which corrupted practices are combatted, restricted or diffused within the society and the economic system.

Especially in Greece, it is the political elite that gave rise to lawlessness and corruption. Through clientelism, illegal subsidies to unproductive companies, ‘under the table’ public sector hires, the political system ‘transmitted the disease’ in the Greek society and economic sphere; not the opposite.

Concluding remark

Although there is always an interconnection between the political, economic and social sphere, one has to point where does – usually – a phenomenon like corruption begins. With his book, Mr Pangalos’ points both to the policians and the citizens’, as ‘two sides of the same coin’. If we take into consideration his belief that “he is just one among others within the EU political system who adopts this perspective”, then I am afraid that there is a gap of fundamental nature between the citizens and the political system:  there is a big divergence in the realisation of the definition of the problem called ‘corruption’. And if the political leaders do not define the problem properly, then any solution will probably be condemned to failure, once more.

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