Friday, April 06, 2007

To be or not to be (corrupted)? When tolerance is part of the problem…

I am delighted to see that there is an open dialogue over the corruption issue even if it is not as public as it should have been. I would love to listen to people talking about the Greek corruption problem on television, or read in depth articles in the press. It is my belief that this is the country’s number one problem in the long run and the sooner people realize it the better for the generations to come.

You all have a point. Corruption is everywhere. It is eating up the foundations of many societies around the world. Unfortunately, should we wish to get a clear picture, we must rely on statistics, inasmuch as boring as they are. Statistics are tricky, I know… It is the art of proving that two people ate half a chicken each when one’s eaten one and the other half. But… nevertheless… it’s all we have to run into some concrete conclusions.

It is also true that you cannot measure the exact levels of corruption in a society because the fact that you rely on should be always available and easy to access. And this is not the case. Corruption is bad, therefore the corrupted ones always hide it. BUT…

What you can do is to be based on the perception some more or less reliable sources have over corruption. This is something that you cannot ignore and certainly not dismiss as a conspiracy against the nation. By doing so, you just refuse to contribute into resolving the problem and become part of it.

Enough with the theory then. Each year, the Berlin-based organization Transparency International releases an index that makes headlines all over the western world. Why the western only? Because we like it or not this is where people care more about such things. Greek media rarely bother to make a mention on this index, while politicians who know about it turn their heads the other way.

The 2006 annual survey for the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index was released earlier this year to once again define corruption as the abuse of public office for private gain and to measure the degree to which corruption is perceived to exist among a country's public officials and politicians.

“It is a composite index, drawing on 12 polls and surveys from 9 independent institutions, which gathered the opinions of businesspeople and country analysts. Only 163 of the world's 193 countries are included in the survey, due to an absence of reliable data from the remaining countries. The scores range from ten (squeaky clean) to zero (highly corrupt). A score of 5.0 is the number Transparency International considers the borderline figure distinguishing countries that do and do not have a serious corruption problem”.

Here you can see the complete 2006 list to observe exactly how Greece scored for the past year. It doesn’t make you proud I assure you. It is not just the disappointment you get when you see the name of the country proudly sitting on position 54 amongst the 164, not even the fact that the Greek index says 4.4 (much below the line that distinguishes the clean and the dirty). Proud Greeks can live with this. But how can you digest the fact that perceived much cleaner than Greece are countries like Botswana (Africa), Barbados, Uruguay, Dominica (Americas), Bhutan, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, Jordan or Malaysia (Asia)?

Well, forget about these countries and take a look at Greece’s neighborhood, the European family of nations in which she belongs. Thank God there were two enlargements since 2003, otherwise Greece would appear last in the list of shame. Now, among the 27 member states, she is number 24, followed only by Bulgaria, Poland and Romania. You wanna see who’s ahead of Greece? Seven of the ten former communist countries that joined recently should be given credit for their positioning above the craddle of western civilization (Estonia, Slovenia, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Lithuania. Latvia and Slovakia). How proud does this make you? I know it gives me a punch in the stomach.

So, you think that things are improving? Well, take a look at the 2005 index, study it carefully and compare the scores. Then tell me about it. In 2005 Greece had scored almost exactly the same (4.3) BUT she was in position 47, meaning that the situation got actually worst, since she gave room to seven countries, which climbed over (countries that have significantly improved their rating since the 2005 index were Algeria, Czech Rep., India, Japan, Latvia, Lebanon, Mauritius, Paraguay, Slovenia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and Uruguay). This means that the country’s pace of improvement is considerably slower than it should. My nightmare is that the 2007 index will show Greece below the 54th position and you know what? No one will give a damn in this country. It won’t make headlines, it won’t hit the TV news, it won’t be discussed in the Parliament…

This is how others see us. Who are these others? Well, they are those who matter, the big guys, not me and you… The international organizations that neither love Greece nor loathe her but are indeed shaping the international investment climate, based on facts (Economist Intelligence, Institute for Management Development, Merchant International Group, World Economic Forum, World Markets Research Centre). The CPI stands for “Corruption Perceptions Index” and it takes time and effort to change a perception. It is the reaction you get when you listen to the words “Finland” (clean, honest, reliable) and “Azerbaijan” (corrupted, unreliable, a mess). This is called stereotyping, I know but it is there and you should get rid of it.

You won’t manage to do it unless you face the problem right in the eye. I am afraid that by saying “others do it too but know how to hide it better than us, who brag about it” you refuse to see the problem and what’s worse you mislead others who are trying. It’s always nice to know that we’re not the only bad students in the classroom, isn’t it?

Well, I say look ahead. See the ugly truth. Spread the news, speak out, react! I love this country and I cannot lie to make others feel happy. I’m not an anti-hellene as some have called me in their very negative emails. I dare say that I’m more of a philhellene than many of the Greeks I see around me. I feel pain when I see what’s happening in this country and what I say does not amuse me. This is why I believe it is vital to speak out, through my writing and my everyday conducts. I think that everyone should speak out for the sake of our community and the whole.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

For starters, very good post. I like seeing other people giving a damn and having discussions like i do (no snob attitude here, just a statement), for this country.

I think you got me all wrong when i said "others do it too but know how to hide it better than us, who brag about it". My main point, and conclusion of the last answer is that we shouldn't really care who is more or less corrupted than us. We should care for the fact that we -are- corrupted (little or much) and we should focus on fixing it, whether the problem is big or small.

This is really why i don't like statistics and comparison to other countries. As a matter of fact, i can't tell how reliable the statistical surveys of the TIC are, grading the US with a...7.3? I highly doubt it, and so do many of the american citizens themselves. What i mean by that is that i can't really tell how objective those surveys really are, when it comes to the dirt of each country and each superpower of the world. Of course, this doesn't mean that we, Greece, aren't as shitty as it presents us to be (i honestly believe we're a good 4.4), but i'd take quite a few country ratings with a grain of salt for their truthfulness. No wonder, also, why all the countries painted "less corrupted" in the map, are countries that were/are leaders of most of the wars and conquests (expansions and colonies, since some hundreds of years ago, that still have an effect on the conquered countries even today) in this world, and that are considered to be world leading powers today (leaving Russia-USSR and China aside). Maybe those countries "aid" in the corruption issues of the other countries that suffer from their "leadership"? Consider that, though it may be irrelevant to this particular post (and i am really sorry if i went out of the subject).

All of this is really needless to say, but i'm only referring to it as a disapproval of comparing our state with the state of other countries. I am underlining again that i agree 100% on the facts about the greek corruption and i am not trying to make it sound less painful in any way.

I'm all for speaking up for the corruptive ways of this country, be sure about it. Nothing can justify the idleness against corruption.

10:33 PM, April 06, 2007  
Blogger Saile Sistigrev said...

@ maria: thank you for your post. I agree with you that statistics are not always reliable. But it’s all we’ve got. And most important it is what foreign investors ask for first thing in the morning before their coffee to see whether they should put they dollars in this or that country. So, we like it or not this is how the system works.

One more thing. This index does not show the most or less corrupted countries but the existing PERCEPTION of who’s corrupted or not. There’s a huge difference and I think I made this quite clear in my post. And the perception is something that builds up in the minds of people after years and years of hearsay and conduct. Fair or unfair, just or unjust, truth or lie, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that it is there, and there is a reason for it.

This reason is not the case in what concerns the US. If you ever wanted to open up a business in the good old US of A you’d see what I mean. Of course there’s corruption in the US. But you know what? There’s also zero tolerance to it, something that is vital for the formation of a perception. Greeks on the other hand are so confident that since everyone’s doing it and getting away with it, they’d do it too.

I would avoid drawing conclusions that the clean ones on the map are the conquerors of the past/present. Excluding five or six EU countries that were indeed colonialist powers, this is not the case for the seven communist block states and a dozen of other EU states that are better off than Greece. Nor is it the case for countries like Cyprus, Chile, Barbados or for more than a dozen of middle eastern countries. They are all perceived as cleaner than Greece.

Aside all this, I’m glad we’re both at the same bank of the river.

11:33 PM, April 06, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for your reply. Of course we're at the same bank of the river. I may be a bit of a pain in the buttocks when it comes to some issues in Greece, but in conclusion we're talking about the same things here, more or less ;)

As usual, my contradiction points:

1)The perception is something quite subjective for each country. For example, as i've seen from fellow american friends, most people in the US don't own a very realistic perception of the world-outside-US, because they don't care to know about it, keep their ears and eyes shut or are too lost in their own culture. This i've been told by americans themselves, though i've managed to come to this conclusion by myself too. Some friends traveling to Greece from the US were warned about our country by family members as if they'd be going to Uzbekistan. I bet the same might be happening for more countries in the world.

2) Can you support the fact that US has no tolerance to corruption? At least 1/4 of the population is driven to decisions for their daily life by a religious system that is itself corrupted. And that is just an example.

3) I am just making guesses on the map talking about the conqueror countries, but honestly, most countries on the map are either conquerors/war-makers (US, spain, france, england, germany) or non-participants to conflicts (at least not to many, like Australia, Scandinavian countries, Canada), or rich arab states. And most of the former USSR states are not more than a few decimals different from Greece (apart from Estonia and Slovenia).

I hope i made those points clearer now. It's not really what should concern us, but since we're presenting some elements to set a corruption perception, we should examine them well, too. Interested in keeping on the discussion!

12:41 AM, April 07, 2007  
Anonymous adamo said...

Well as you put it in your own words the main problem with the index that you refer to is that "This index does not show the most or less corrupted countries but the existing PERCEPTION of who’s corrupted or not.".

Perception and reality are two different things. So yes, it is bad that others think that we are highly corrupted, but again this does not prove the hight of our corruption. It merely proves what I wrote under your other post:

Since we like to brag about it when breaking the law, the impression stays and makes its point.

12:45 AM, April 07, 2007  
Blogger Saile Sistigrev said...

@ adamo: perception does mean there is a problem. Greeks say where there's smoke, there's fire. What does it come to an investor’s mind when they listen the word "Ireland" these days? Isn't it effectiveness, fairness, reliability, honesty? Yes it is… Why? Because the country is doing really well… But when they listen to the word “Greece” they know that the country is one of the most corrupted in the old continent.
Now if you believe that the perception is wrong this is another story. We all live here and many of us travel around the world, read reports, newspapers, talk to decision-makers, study statistics. I think Greeks should digest it well and feel the shock on their spine: they live in one of Europe’s most corrupted countries. And they tolerate it. This is the truth.
Only if they see it clearly they might do something about it. With an attitude that says “we’re not the only ones, others do it as well but hide it better than us” you can’t get anywhere.

1:10 AM, April 07, 2007  
Blogger Saile Sistigrev said...

@ maria:

1+2) don’t know about your American friends but believe me when it comes to serious level decision making Americans do know very well who’s corrupted and who’s not. They are corrupted too of course but at least I’ve seen powerful businessmen and politicians going to jail over there. And yes their politics is “zero tolerance” and it works on many levels. In 2005 alone more than 2,000 influential businesses went under serious investigation, were shut down and their rich CEOs went to jail. But anyway, the point is elsewhere: Greece has a serious corruption problem.

3) you don’t need to find loopholes on the map. It is simple. Greece is number 24 out of 27. Period. And countries that experienced a messy political system for half a century and went through a hell are doing better (even if it is for a few decimals). Twenty-six years of EU membership and Greece is still the sick man of Europe? Look at Spain. When she joined the EU in 1985 the country was in a mess, had just come out of a brutal dictatorship that lasted more than 50 years, 40% of the population was under the poverty line and unemployment was more than 23%. Well, 21 years later, Spain is one of Europe’s most prosperous nations, maybe the most dynamic and vivid of all the other members. It is really amazing how they have turned things around. If you ever happen to scroll corridors in Brussels and listen to what EU bureaucrats say about Greece you’d really feel embarrassed. I know I am…

1:34 AM, April 07, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know exactly what you're talking about. Also, this is precisely what i've been talking about:

a) "the point is elsewhere: Greece has a serious corruption problem. "

b) "It is simple. Greece is number 24 out of 27. Period."

This is what i've been supporting so far. I don't care about maps, stats or other possibly subjective and unclear elements and numbers. What i care about is that Greece is facing serious corruption, whether it is first or last in any list.

(Off-topic, give US a second look. I also have large family living there, but i'm trusting more my american friends that actually care to put their country under the microscope. Yes, the US takes action against corruption, but not to 100% scale. They would never bust someone that profits the land too much. What i mean is that there's only a handful of countries i would consider zero-tolerant to corruption, and certainly US is not one of them.)

2:29 PM, April 07, 2007  

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