In a little-noticed drama, played out in the wings of our political soap opera, publishers are struggling to renew a decades-old amendment that allows them to spend two percent of their turnover in whichever way they see fit. This means that they can pocket the money or use it to pay for expenses that do not have receipts (as when a correspondent is on assignment) or to make payments that they want no one to know about. Seeing as publishing is a legitimate business that has been around for a very long time it would seem rather unnecessary to open a black hole in a company’s books for “unorthodox” payments. Anyhow, the issue of how publishing works in this country needs much greater scrutiny than this short comment.
What is striking about the “two percent” issue, though, is the passion with which its supporters (namely those very few who benefit from it) are fighting to keep it. One would argue that two percent of turnover is not such a big deal, seeing as the other 98 percent is on the books with no great disturbance to operations. But that’s the point: the two percent works as a loophole, allowing all kinds of behavior that would not be tolerated if all dealings had to be above board. This is an instance in which one and one do not make two, but instead make anything that we want it to. For example, if you have a black bag in a bank, into which no one but its owner is allowed to peek, how do you know that what is in that bag is what he says it is? The two-percent loophole is, very simply, a trapdoor into a forbidden world.
And these loopholes are part of one of the greatest problems in Greece’s economy, politics and society. The so-called “parathyrakia” – “little windows” in laws and regulations – permit all kinds of favoritism and exploitation of the situation. Laws are passed or amended to favor specific groups or even individuals – laws are bent to give specific groups or individuals a free pass when they are caught breaking them. This is almost always done for the political expedience of the “lawmakers” who want to pander to their supporters or to buy the support of others. This is always done at the expense of society as a whole.
A prime example of this can be seen in our everyday travails on the roads. In an unashamed effort to curry favor with taxi drivers, the Transport Minister allowed them to raise their fares while also permitting them to use bus lanes outside Athens’s restricted center. In no time, all bus lanes, including those in the center, were choked with taxis. And, very soon after, with private cars. You see, once the bus lanes had been eviscerated, what was the point of anyone staying out of them?
These little loopholes accumulate to form the noose that strangles our society.
Milestones&Footnotes column in AthensPlus, 15 May 2009