Friday, April 16, 2010

Tragic Flaw: Graft Feeds Greek Crisis

Wall Street Journal
April 15, 2010

Behind the budget crisis roiling Greece lies a riddle: Why does the state spend so lavishly but collect taxes so poorly? Many Greeks say the answer needs only two words: fakelaki and rousfeti.

Fakelaki is the Greek for "little envelopes," the bribes that affect everyone from hospital patients to fishmongers. Rousfeti means expensive political favors, which pervade everything from hiring teachers to property deals with Greek Orthodox monks. Together, these traditions of corruption and cronyism have produced a state that is both bloated and malnourished, and a crisis of confidence that is shaking all of Europe.

A study to be published in coming weeks by the Washington-based Brookings Institution finds that bribery, patronage and other public corruption are major contributors to the country's ballooning debt, depriving the Greek state each year of the equivalent of at least 8% of its gross domestic product, or more than €20 billion (about $27 billion).

"Our basic problem is systemic corruption," Greece's Prime Minister George Papandreou said after he took office late last year, vowing to change a mentality that views the republic as a resource to plunder. He later berated the chief of public prosecutions, saying Greeks believe "there is impunity in this country." The chief prosecutor said that wasn't so.

Greece moved closer to a bailout Thursday, requesting aid talks with the International Monetary Fund and the European Union. Many investors and economists say aid would buy Greece time, but wouldn't solve its underlying problems.


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