Syriza will have to `sacrifice their own` to reform Greece

Xenia takes a deep breath and says, "other than Germany, there is only one thing keeping Greece down -- corruption, corruption and corruption."

Athens: Xenia takes a deep breath and says, "other than Germany, there is only one thing keeping Greece down -- corruption, corruption and corruption."

Like many of her friends, the young lecturer voted for the radical left party Syriza in January`s elections because they were the only ones with "clean hands", and because they promised to sweep away Greece`s rotten old political system built on favours and kickbacks.

"Only a fool would try to do things straight", when dealing with Greek officialdom, she said.

Xenia knows this first-hand.

She got her first university post through a friend of her father, a staunch supporter of the former socialist Pasok government. "I am not proud to admit it. I would be more ashamed if it wasn`t the same for half of my colleagues who got their jobs because their families supported the other side."

Greece`s creditors were quick to point to its overstaffed public service, bloated with political appointees, said Theodore Pelagidis, professor of economics at the University of Piraeus.

While more than 200,000 have since lost their jobs, the new Syriza-led government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has vowed to find the money to pay off the country`s massive debt mountain by cracking down hard on fraud and tax evasion.It has appointed a tough former prosecutor, Panagiotis Nikoloudis, as its anti-corruption tsar, and he told AFP in a recent interview that "if the new government has come to see me it`s because it really wants to act."

On Tuesday the finance ministry announced a huge new trawl through bank accounts and shareholdings looking for billions in alleged undeclared income.

But according to Pelagidis, co-author of "Understanding the Crisis in Greece", any meaningful reform of the Greek state will also have to "get rid of people who are not doing their jobs. Which could be a very big problem for Syriza because public servants are the base of their support.

"Are they really going to sacrifice their own supporters?"

Pelagidis has his doubts, as does Professor Michael Arghyrou of the Cardiff Business School, who said allowing power company workers a pay rise this week as the government scrabbles to meet its debts does not augur well.

Many, however, argue that cuts have gone too deep causing chronic staff shortages, with one health minister saying he needs an extra 1,700 staff.

The government would do better to hire tax inspectors, said Arghyrou, to overhaul the "dysfunctional" collection system.

While much of Syriza`s rhetoric has been about making the country`s richest families pay their fair share -- with Nikoloudis claiming in parliament that some wealthy families "think the state exists to service their interests" -- Arghyrou believes the problem cuts right across society.

"Studies have shown the massive discrepancies between what professional and self-employed people have in their bank accounts and what they declare for tax. Seven out of 10 say their earnings are below the tax threshold, which is ridiculous," he said.

But tackling tax evasion and the huge shadow economy worth 28 billion euros ($31 billion) by some estimates -- a fifth of Greece`s GDP -- is also about changing mindsets, the professor said."You cannot change mentalities built up over 40 years in four months. And Syriza are in a desperate financial position with no time to play with," Arghyrou said.

Attitudes, however, may be changing. Bribes paid in Greece dropped below the half billion euro mark last year for the first time since Transparency International started monitoring "fakelakia", the "little envelopes" of cash that have been traditionally used to oil the wheels of bureaucracy.

Eleanna Ioannidou, a Green councillor in Greece`s second city Thessaloniki, said that no matter how sincere Syriza`s intentions to combat the culture of favours and fakelakia, rooting it out will not be easy.

"We were raised with this unhealthy relationship with politicians where we expect favours and to be looked after," she said.

"Syriza is going to have this problem with the public servants. No more fakelakia or special treatment also means no more exceptions being made and that is going to make some people angry," the ecologist added.

But she also warned Europe about falling for stereotypes. "When you look at bribery, the biggest scandals in recent years in Greece have involved German companies like Siemens and arms maker KMW. Who then was corrupting who?"

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