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Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Open letter to tax-avoiders, ‘untouchable’ government officials, corrupt civil servants and spongers from the clientelistic society in Greece: when Greece defaults, you have the blood of innocent people on your hands!

Dear Sir, Madam,

Greece has been an example for many people in Europe and the whole world.

It was arguably the country with the first hospital in the world. The founder of the concept ‘democracy’. The country in which Plato, Aristoteles, Archimedes and Pythagoras could develop their knowledge and wisdom in the sciences of Philosophy, Physics and Mathematics. The country of a dozen other great scientific, humane and political inventions that I forgot or yet didn’t hear about.

Greece has gone through a number of difficult decades during the last hundred years, of which I hope it will recover. The Second World War; the Colonel’s Regime; the continuous arguments with big neighbour Turkey over Cyprus and other borderline issues; the anemic Greek economy; the enduring difficulties to change the country from an agricultural and tourism-based society into a modern industrial and service-based economy; these are all factors that are stopping Greece from retaining its past grandeur.

Still, I am convinced that Greece will recover from its difficulties, like a phoenix from the flames. As far as I’m concerned, Greece is and will be a member of the European Union and the Euro-zone. Greece is an undividable part of Europe and the EU and Greece belong together.

This morning, I was shocked and strongly disappointed that the negotations between the finance ministers of the European Union on another rescue package for Greece went awry. I didn’t understand why these negotiations failed and why countries like Germany, Finland and The Netherlands were so stubborn on the conditions for the next rescue package.

Remission of Greece from all its debt might be one bridge too far, but at least these countries could have agreed on a strong reduction of the interest rates for the Greek loans, making it much easier for Greece to pay off its debt.

Everybody knew that Greece did the best it could to save money and to deploy further austerity measures: unemployment fees were minimized, pensions were cut, enormous amounts of civil servants have been fired. The IMF was satisfied on the Greek progress and the streets of Athens and other cities were already cluttered with protestors against the harsh and sometimes even inhumane austerity measures.

Asking even more from Greece would be inhumane… Or, wouldn’t it?!

There are a few subjects where Greece didn’t make so much progress.

One of those subjects is tax evasion.

Thousands of government officials, successful business-men and women and other extremely rich people have stashed their black money and possessions in countries like Switzerland, Luxemburg, The Netherlands or in official tax-havens like the Caymen Islands. Sometimes, these people acted at the fuzzy edge of legal (business) behaviour and in many cases far over the edge of legality. 

The latter category had been recorded in the so-called ‘Lagarde List': a list from 2010 with the names of 1991 tax evasionists in Greece, put together by current IMF chairman and former French finance minister Christine Lagarde.

Although the Greek government had been in possession of the Lagarde List since 2010, its representatives failed to do something about it, but instead sat on their hands. This could be called ‘criminal neglect’ or even straight-forward corruption.

When the brave journalist Kostas Vaxevanis decided to run the gauntlet and published this list, he was (and still is) prosecuted like a petty criminal, instead of being treated like the hero that he really is. That could also be called corruption.

Corruption starts at the bottom with small favors in return for actions or favors that should be for free or should be handled with a fixed timetable. A bottle of Ouzo for a quickly delivered passport, a cake or chocolate drops for a driver’s license and a few hundred bucks for a building permit ‘without questions asked’.

At the top, people are bribed with hundreds of thousands of euro’s to look the other way when crimes and frauds are happening.  Also people are paid to do favors to other people that are not in the interest of the community, the city or the whole country. For money, anything is for sale.

Corruption is like the proverbial drop of water that hollows out the hardest stone. One drop is nothing, but a billion drops will ruin the stone.

As far as I’ve heard, nobody in Greece with black money stashed away has turned himself in to the police or other officials: not only to become on terms with himself, but also to help his own country conquer its enemies within.

I also didn’t hear that corrupted and clientelistic civil servants decided ‘not to go with the flow’ anymore and stop the widespread corruption that ruins a country from the inside and ruins the moral of the people that live in it. Neither did corrupted members of parliament and the government: especially the one’s present on Lagarde’s List.

Probably nobody, who owns a large house ‘under construction’, decided that it is finally finished after 25 years and that property taxes should be paid on it.

This kind of morality sounds like: ‘I am prepared to help my country, as long as it doesn’t cost me money. If it will cost me money, then Greece is on its own’.

I am very sorry, but on further consideration I do understand why the Northern Euro-zone countries are reluctant to pay the next tranche of the rescue package.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that these countries are not also part of the Greek problem. The Netherlands is a genuine tax-haven and floods Greece with cheap agricultural produce. German banks took millions in Greek black / grey money without ‘questions asked’. 

Banks from these and other countries flooded Greece with initially cheap loans, until the country was filled to the brim with money. Finland thought only of itself by asking a pawn for its part of the last rescue package. All these countries and others are accomplices in the Greek problem.

Still, these countries do have a point when they stick at refusing Greece the next tranche of the rescue package.

When Greece defaults, this is a disaster for the country and especially for the ‘Giorgios-and-Kristina-in-the-street’. Their already diminished income will further shrink and their lives will be a struggle for survival in an increasingly chaotic society, with bloody protests, looting and rationed provisions.

This will not hurt you, as you are safe in your guarded houses, where provisions will not be in short supply at all. You will have water in your swimming pool, elektricity for your air conditioning and gasoline for your SUV. And when the air in Greece becomes too thin, you just flee the country to your second house in Spain.

But remember, the blood of innocent citizens will be at your hands. It will be your corruption and dishonesty that put Greece in jeopardy, when the next tranche of the rescue package is denied to Greece. Other people may not know it about you, but you will know it yourself.

It is not too late yet to become an honest man or woman. Come on! Just do it!

Sincerely yours,

Ernst Labruyère
Founder of Ernst’s Economy for You

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