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How corruption is impacting Greece and how it can be mitigated

Greece is at a crossroads – does it embrace the conditions imposed by creditors to set Greece onto a sustainable path, or does it resist and maintain the current order?

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22 November 2016

No doubt there are readers right now that are eager to label me naive for thinking that corruption can be addressed adequately. You may be right, but I'm willing to bet you're wrong about that in two generations' time. The youth are fed up with the "it's who you know" approach to enable career progression, achieving certain ends, and even justice. Greece can proudly boast being the home to some of the most educated people in the world. In the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields for instance, the OECD ranks Greece in sixth place for producing the most scientists per capita (26 per cent, despite government funding cuts). But the Greece they've inherited is one where meritocracy is overshadowed by nepotism.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the Greek government are undertaking a joint effort to fight corruption with an 18-month project aiming at 10 targeted outcomes. This is fantastic news, but in reviewing the program, I'm not convinced it will yield results in the short-term, nor do I believe it will in fact curb corruption.

The mission is quite simple – eliminate laws and programs that breed corruption. Implementation, however, is a different beast.

This honestly shouldn't even need to be said, and it really makes you wonder why on earth a country that is on the verge of collapse would continue its notoriously bureaucratic ways and stifle justice and business activity. The only inference that can be drawn from this is that there are people who benefit from the current modus operandi.

To illustrate the current state of play with an example, the World Justice Project (WJP) Rule of Law Index ranks Greece 41st out of 133 countries in the world, and it ranks low among European countries in how citizens experience the rule of law – these include 44 indicators in eight rule of law factors, namely constraint on government power, absence of corruption, open government, fundamental rights, order and security, regulatory enforcement, civil justice and criminal justice. And when you think it can't possibly get worse than that, World Bank data shows that Greek courts take an average of 1,580 days, or 50 months, to reach a final ruling in a case, placing it in 155th position in the world among the countries that delay trials.

Then there's the political realm. In the 21st century, it's anathema to the progress of a modern, sophisticated society to constitutionally mandate that parliamentarians are immune from prosecution. Very little analysis is necessitated to pinpoint an enabler and how to tackle corruption – effective and enforced legislation. Not only legislative reform, but accountability to those laws.

Being a Greek Australian, I've seen both worlds and have experienced what a functional society looks like. In saying that, I don't think Greece is all that different to Australia institutionally. Greece possesses similar laws. Why then do the two countries function so differently though? It comes down to one factor − enforcement.

Greece has smoking laws like Australia (believe it or not), but the difference is that Australia actually enforces the law, and as a result has shaped its culture and behaviour. Culture is a funny thing; it can be what underpins the law, or it can be shaped by the law. In Greece, the situation is such that the police themselves can be seen smoking indoors. No joke, when I flew into Athens International Airport from the well-maintained Barcelona airport, I was greeted by all four control officers smoking in their little cubicles. My countenance displayed a prominent grimace.

But can you really blame the people for not respecting the law? There's no enforcement (even if there was, you might get off with a fakelaki), but more central to the core reason this occurs is that the lawmakers themselves don't respect the laws that they create. The government of any respectable country must act as the exemplar of civic obedience. This was evident in the case of the pregnant MP Niki Kerameos (New Democracy), who, in her words, was "struggling to find a smoke-free room in the parliament". What a disgrace.

What's the use of complaining though, right? No one's going to listen. So, without further ado, here are six ways to proactively prevent and tackle corruption:

End impunity
No individual should be free from punishment if they've committed an offence. Remove all constitutional provisions that protect elected officials from prosecution.

Civil servants' wages
It hurts a free-market capitalist like myself to admit this, but empirical evidence by Van Rijkeglen and Weder (2001) in their economics research paper 'Bureaucratic corruption and the rate of temptation: do wages in the civil service affect corruption, and by how much?' illustrates an inverse relationship between the level of public sector wages and the incidence of corruption. However, more recent data revealed the opposite effect also took place in Ghana and Burkina Faso where higher wages led to higher rates of corruption. That's why it's important that these reforms are conducted in tandem with a holistic perspective. Offer a decent wage, but not so great as to encourage too many people working in the public sector – supporting the private sector is the key to Greece's economy growing.

Amnesty
Whistle-blowers need to be protected. Make an announcement that a crackdown on corruption is under way, and if anyone has anything to report presently, can do so with a lighter or no penalty than if they are caught (depending on the circumstance).

Deterrence
A corruption incident app or hotline accessible by mobile phone to report corrupt deeds is an efficient use of resources and technology. A similar system was implemented in Nigeria to report corrupt officials at checkpoints and proved to be a successful deterrent. Once an official has been reported, the government must enforce the law and terminate the guilty party's employment immediately without warning.

Digitise processes
Trust, accountability and efficiency can become part of the working culture in the public sector if tracking tools for performance and task management were implemented. This enables efficient and effective means of auditing, and will ensure public servants are accountable for their deliverables. Again, an east African country employed this method and reaped the benefits.

Shared intelligence
Corruption doesn't stop at the border. Sharing intel and cooperating with border countries is a great way to close the loop on deterrence as well as a great opportunity for diplomacy. Sharing information such as public registry of ownership can help reconcile, identify and prosecute. In Ukraine for instance, this initiative has led to 14 per cent in savings.

* Greg Orfanidis MBA is a management consultant/strategist.

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