16 April, 2007
Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis on Sunday reiterated his government's pledge of "zero tolerance" against corruption in tandem with a continuation of reforms throughout Greece's cavernous public sector, statements linked directly with an ongoing furor regarding a questionable bond purchase by a state-controlled pension fund.
Karamanlis, speaking to ruling New Democracy party's affiliated youth group (ONNED), devoted most of his address to the issue of state-run pension funds, amid a barrage of criticism by the opposition and a portion of the local press.
"Those who think that the instances (of corruption) that passed unnoticed in the past will be repeated today are making a huge mistake; they are also making a huge mistake if think they can lessen their guilt with irresponsible shouting ... we are continuing our battle with corruption undeterred," Karamanlis said in reference to an almost daily cascade of statements by main opposition PASOK cadres, among others over the affair, which erupted after details of the bond purchase by the civil servants' supplementary fund were disclosed weeks ago.
With the focus expanding to practically all of the dozens of primary and supplementary pension funds partially or completely controlled by the state for several decades now, Karamanlis pointed to the urgent tabling in Parliament -- last week -- of changes aimed at precluding mismanagement at such entities.
"First off, we are ensuring that knowledgeable and experienced board members and directors will be selected by the bodies representing the funds, with approval by the Bank of Greece and the Capital Markets Commission also necessary. The government, at any given time, will have no involvement," he said, adding:
"Secondly, when instances of fraud are ascertained, these funds, with the immediate assistance of the state, shall demand damages so that losses are recovered" he said.
"Zero tolerance is a commitment for us, our conviction towards transparency is non-negotiable," Karamanlis added.
Turning to one of the government's most closely-watched initiatives since it took office in March 2004, Karamanlis said a recently passed framework for changes in higher education - laying down guidelines for universities' operation, institutions' autonomy, more representative faculty elections, stricter definition of the asylum law etc. - was a tangible measure for upgrading the long-depressed academic world.
Finally, the premier also reserved a counter-attack for rival PASOK, criticising the main opposition party for the major problems in the economy and society, as he said, that it "bestowed" on his government. Karamanlis reminded that Greece's fiscal adjustment programme is the largest, percentage wise, in the euro-zone, whereas GDP growth (currently standing at 4 percent) continues to outpace the EU average. He also pointed to substantially rosier pictures for Greece's all-important tourism industry and the emerging energy-related sector.
Source: Athens News Agency