In late 1996 and early 1997, under the weight of the Imia crisis, the then Simitis government was being extremely pressured to adopt an armaments programme that was over-sized as regards the country’s financial capabilities.
The events of Imia, the sacrifice of three Greek military officers who were killed in a helicopter crash, and Turkish claims to rock islets of the southern Aegean allowed all manner of arms merchants to advertise their wares.
Ministers, MPs of all stripes, military men, middlemen, and lobbyists – some in full view, on television or in parliament, and others unseen – were building the argument for procurement on a daily basis, as is somewhat the case now.
At some point, the pressure on the then PM was insufferable, so much so that he began issuing calls to the press.
The PM’s close advisor, the late Nikos Themelis, seeing the danger of a derailment of defence spending, and suspecting the forthcoming pillage and corruption, started anxiously calling newspapers, almost pleading with them to raise the issue of transparency in military expenditures, and asking them to call for the abolition of the off-limits status of the defence ministry.
Some answered those pleas of Nikos Themelis, but the climate was such that no one took the warnings and pleas for transparency and auditing of defence spending into account.
The proponents of armaments cited the confidentiality of the country’s defence planning so as to avoid an audit and accounting.
The rest is known to all Greeks. The directly propagandized wave of arms procurement allowed then defence minister Akis Tsochadzopoulos to promote an arms programme that was enormous given the country’s capabilities, burdening the Greek people excessively – and in the view of many laying the foundations for bankruptcy – and offering the minister the opportunity to reap the spoils.
Unfortunately, despite that bad experience, which brought countless ills upon the Greek people and degraded political parties ethically and politically, the same practices are continuing today.
The defence ministry remains, even in these days of bankruptcy, a bastion of non-transparency and a field for cunning middlemen, with the toleration, if not the outright cooperation, of the ministry’s political leadership. These middlemen are in constant motion, and they dictate purchases and actions in line with their interests.
As one can read in the Sunday To Vima’s report (pp 16-17), the current contracts for the upgrading of Air Force war planes, but also the older contracts regarding the old naval cooperation aircraft, are full of “innovations” and “inventions” favouring particular middlemen, and directly violating arms procurement laws.
These are long-term contracts that outlast a single government’s term and bind the country, as it is not easy to revise them even if there is a proven problem.
That is why transparency and checks in advance are of value.
Let those in positions of responsibility know that all these one-sided agreements will be examined and evaluated, and that burdens that accompany them will be highlighted, and certainly responsibility will be attributed. The guardians know.