Greece: Even Corruption Is In A Deep Recession

Transparency International just published the results of its 2011 National Survey on Corruption in Greece, which tried to sort out the kind of bribery and petty corruption that households had to deal with in their daily lives, and the results were sobering, as they tend to be with corruption surveys—but in an unexpected way: for those asking for bribes, an outright depression has commenced.

Corruption is an issue in Greece. In the Corruption Perception Index 2011, which covers 182 countries, Greece is in 80th place, sharing that honorable position with Colombia, El Salvador, Morocco, Peru, and Thailand. It is worse even than China whose corruption is legendary. It is in last place within the Eurozone which prides itself in its clean way of doing business. But they’re not that clean either: for holier-than-thou Germany, the cost of corruption has reached a quarter trillion euros!

The survey, the fifth since 2007, measured “petty corruption” of the type that touched average folks in a routine manner and not the type of high-level corruption where millions are involved. It relied on questionnaires sent to a sample of 12,000 households. Respondents reported that the number of petty corruption incidents in the public sector edged up from 7.2% in 2010 to 7.4% in 2011. They fell in the private sector from 4% in 2010 to 3.4% in 2011. The worst offenders were hospitals within the state-owned healthcare apparatus; next were tax offices and construction licenses.

The price list for fakelaki—little brown envelopes—has a broad range. At state-owned hospitals, for example, the rock-bottom bribe for getting some surgery done will set you back a still affordable €100. At the upper end, however, it’s a whopping €30,000. That’s just to get into surgery. The national health system, which is administered by IKA, pays for the surgery itself. To get catapulted up the waiting list costs as well, with prices ranging from €30 at the very bottom, maybe to get ahead of some people in the emergency room, to €20,000 at the top end.

Such widespread incidents of bribery in the state-owned healthcare system appear shocking to outsiders and might lead us to conclude that this kind of nastiness would never occur in privately owned hospitals where doctors and business people are in charge, not corrupt government bureaucrats. Alas, private hospitals and clinics are afflicted with the same scourge. Getting into surgery costs from €150 to €7,000. For medical tests, you dish out €30 to €500.

To get a tax audit arranged in your favor costs from €100 for banal cases to a hefty €20,000. For documents, you might be asked to fork over somewhere between €15 and €1,000. A construction license goes for €200 to €8,000. Did you get caught with an illegal building? Not a problem: from €200 to €5,000.

But in a sign of just how tough things have gotten in Greece, the amounts that households paid for bribes plummeted from €632 million in 2010 to €554 million in 2011, a 12.3% nosedive.

Apparently, not only Greece’s economic and fiscal crisis exercised downward pressure on the amounts, but also a change in the perception of bribery. For example, due to new tax policies that require taxpayers to submit value-added tax receipts with their tax returns, respondents increasingly thought that a seller’s refusal to provide such a receipt constituted a corruption incident. And people appear to have become weary of it: 25.3% refused to play along when asked for a fakelaki by a public-sector employee, and 21.6% spurned such requests in the private sector. Interestingly, the bribe payers are largely educated men between 45 and 54 who were self-employed or had businesses with employees.

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