Friday 30 April 2010

An open letter to Dominique Strauss-Kahn and the IMF

Dear Mr. Strauss-Kahn,

Congratulations, for lack of a better word, on the recent intervention of the IMF in the Greek stability and growth programme. I am one of the small minority in this country who believe that without the IMF, the government will have neither the political will, nor the technical skills, to pass meaningful public sector reforms and gain control of its drastic debt situation.

In the many details of reforms that have been considered or adopted since this crisis began, I see that the most important one has not yet been raised: Parliamentary Immunity. As you are no doubt aware, all serving Members of Greek Parliament enjoy full immunity based on Articles 61 and 62 of the Constitution while the Parliament is in session (except in very narrow cases of criminal acts). You may not be aware that this immunity continues indefinitely after the end of a Parliamentary term unless the full Parliament votes in favour to waive it. In practice, this never occurs.

The result is that the major public sector corruption scandals since the restoration of democracy have for the most part never resulted in the single criminal conviction of a member of Parliament, or a single party official.

Contrasting this to France where for instance Charles Pasqua was just handed a 4 year sentence for bribery regarding arms sales to Africa, or Germany, where Helmut Kohl resigned over a funding scandal, and one can easily see the difference in the culture of public administration. This is not to say that France and Germany are perfect, but the differences with Greece are significant.

Regrettable, even with this current crisis, I do not believe the Greek Parliament will vote to change the constitution. It will be imperative, however, that the “troika” of the IMF, the European Central Bank and the European Commission devise ways of improving the transparency and accountability of the political system that has brought Greece—and the Eurozone—into this position.

This calls for a rigorous monitoring of all public sector expenditure, both on and off the central government balance sheet, and perhaps a condition that a technical team be stationed at the Ministry of Finance over the long term to assist with reforming the conditions of public procurement and disbursement. Alternatively, the financial loans granted should only be used for debt re-finance, rather than regular public sector expenditure, and the troika should use its power to name and shame examples of egregious or corrupt public sector expenditure.

I am afraid that the time for normal courtesies and protocols is over. The majority of Greek citizens are disgusted with the corrupt, ineffectual and nepotistic practises of our political parties and our public administration, but we are essentially powerless to change them. We only hope you will be able to succeed where we have failed.

Sincerely yours,

Philip Ammerman

Saturday 24 April 2010

Schinias Beach Cleanup: Sunday, April 25th 2010

In honour of Earth Day, the Friends of Schinias are participating in a cleaning of the National Forest of Marathon-Schinias on Sunday, April 25th, 2010.

This event occurs within the framework of a wider volunteer initiative launched bv the Hellenic Ministry of Environment, Energy and Climate Change named Green Action – Clean Action volunteer campaign, and the National Park of Schinias-Marathon is one of the two regions in Greece chosen to pilot the campaign.

As a result, we hope for a high turnout on Sunday, to help clean areas of the forest which we have not been able to access before. We will be working with Elix, a company with long experience in volunteering activities, has been chosen by the Ministry to coordinate the event.

We will be meeting at 09:30-10:00 at the parking lot of the Olympic Rowing Centre, and will clean from 10:00 – 13:00. A picnic lunch will follow at 13:00.

Please remember to bring:

a. A hat and long-sleeve shirt or jacket and mosquito repellent

b. Water to drink

c. Food to contribute to the picnic, if you will participate.

We look forward to seeing you on Sunday, April 25th!


The OASA (Attiki Bus Network) is supporting the Schinias Beach Cleanup on Sunday, April 25th. It is providing buses with free transport for volunteers to and from the event.

Departures will occur between 09:00 – 10:00 to Schinias, and from 13:00 – 15:00 from Schinias back to Athens. There are two departure points:

· From Platanos Square in Kifissia (πλατεία Πλατάνου)

· From Doukissis Plakentias Metro Station in Halandri (Δουκ. Πλακεντίας)

For further information, please call the OASA call centre 185, or check their website

Thursday 8 April 2010

Mirages over the Corinthian Gulf

Our family vacation house sits on the northern shore of the Corinthian Gulf, about 20 km after the town of Galaxidi on the coastal road towards Nafpaktos. My parents bought a plot of land in 1976 or thereabouts, cleared it, and after great trouble, built a small, red tile-roofed house. Their dream was to have a house by the sea, and I remember the work we did, filling 40 liter plastic kanates by the village spring and bringing them by car to water the olive trees we had planted. Some 25 years later, those little spindly olive saplings that were whipped so mercilessly by the maestros wind have grown into large, green-silver trees that block the view the sea. But I still remember how we toiled to water them.

Nearly every day out here, we see 2- or 3-aircraft flights of the Hellenic Air Force, about 400 metres off the deck, practicing strike runs over the mountains. Aging A-7 Corsairs; Mirage 2000s, sometimes even F-16s. They streak up from the Corinthian Gulf, gain altitude to clear the peaks, and disappear somewhere to the north, towards Giona mountain.

Each time I see them, I stand a little taller. These are the flyboys on which the freedom of Greece literally depends. They hurtle through space on aging airframes, practicing for a day we hope will never come. They are paid a ridiculously low salary, put themselves at risk every time they strap a plane on their back, and are largely unrecognised by a society more concerned with the doings of Julia Alexandratou or Eleni Menegaki than by the real world.

Whenever the planes go by, I reflect as well on the meaning of patriotism, and the vast contrast between these men and women in uniform, and the politicians that purport to lead this country. I reflect on the party cadres from both PASOK and ND that have dealt with various weapons suppliers, and on the deals that have been made. I reflect on the fact that in Greece, our politicians have not just gotten kickbacks on weapons sales, but even on the issue of public debt to fund their purchase.

In the democracy we claim to have, I often wonder whether the chronic problem of political corruption and incompetence is a symptom or a cause. In other words, has the political class brought about a society where Eleni Menegaki’s divorce has become a dominant issue, or has this society created and tolerated a political class which reflects its true self?

In either case, a growing share of the population—particularly among those educated professionals that view the Greek government and its political elites as a source of Greece’s problems rather than its solution--do not have a real choice among political parties today. The tired slogans of PASOK or ND no longer conceal the moral bankruptcy of either party, or of the country itself. Fundamental questions, such as whether the state should be responsible for spending up to half of national GDP while Greece’s ranking in nearly every international benchmark continue to decline, are never asked, or never acted upon, by either major party.

Unless a fundamentally new political movement is started, we will be condemned to hearing the same rubbish and watching our economic position deteriorate, while social problems multiply. Such a movement should reflect and reinforce the fundamental values of the century we live in: transparency, mobility, volunteerism, entrepreneurship and involvement. It should be open to Greeks of the diaspora as well as citizens of other countries living in Greece. It should develop the tools needed for competitiveness and individual self-realisation in a globalised society. The politics of generational nepotism, of rural party barons delivering subsidies and government jobs, must be eliminated.

Perhaps this sounds unrealistic, or naïve. After all, who wants to go to the trouble of getting involved in Greek politics? I certainly don’t, and I can’t imagine many other people do either. But I see no other solution to the systemic problems that affect this country. If we take a systems analysis view of Greece, it’s clear that the problem starts with the political parties: how they are financed and governed; their impunity to prosecution while in Parliament; their inability to offer real solutions.

We are on the brink of national bankruptcy, which has been exacerbated by the fundamental, chronic inability of either political party to deal with the major social economic issues which count. We do not have Sweden for a neighbour, and where economic weakness leads us, the erosion of political sovereignty follows.