January 30, 2013 6:19 pm
George Provopoulos, the head of Greece’s central bank, says his country is past the worst of the crisis. Confidence is rising, the government is working and some hope for a return to normality in the not too distant future. But highly charged allegations against the head of Greece’s statistics agency suggest that it might be the wrong kind of normality – where politics takes precedence over national interests.
Andreas Georgiou left a 21-year career at the International Monetary Fund in 2010 to return to Greece at the request of then Prime Minister George Papandreou. His brief was to create an independent statistics agency that would restore the faith of Greece’s creditors in the nation’s numbers. For years, these had been manipulated for political ends.
Almost immediately he faced roadblocks. At one stage he even had to circumvent an obstructive finance ministry by appealing to the troika of Greece’s creditors to ensure he had the funds to fulfil his mission. Since his appointment, statistics have been accepted without question by Eurostat.
Now Mr Georgiou faces criminal charges for undermining “national interests” by inflating the 2009 budget deficit figure that was used as the benchmark for successive austerity packages. The accusation comes from a colleague who was dismissed in 2011 and who had been a candidate for Mr Georgiou’s post. She alleges that he used overly stringent calculations that meant Greece’s bailout terms were harsher than they needed to be.
Of course, wrongdoing should be punished. But none of those who are known to have fiddled figures before have been charged or even pursued. Moreover, the European Commission has come out in Mr Georgiou’s defence, saying he used reliable numbers and followed the rules. Senior officials in Athens have suggested to this newspaper that he is the scapegoat in a political battle over who should bear the blame for austerity.
Greece has come a long way since 2009. Its citizens have suffered enormously in the effort to restore public finances. The fact that 10-year bonds have fallen below 10 per cent for the first time in two years shows that international investors also recognise the work done so far. But if those who helped build the foundations for a return of credibility are sacrificed to base vendettas, the risk is that Greece’s transformation will be judged as superficial. Mr Georgiou’s role was to tell the unpleasant truth. Shooting the messenger will not make that truth disappear.
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