A good Greek story

There is nothing at all “good” about John Cochrane’s greek story. Greek democracy (and “civil service”) has had a long time to evolve and metastasize:

Matt Jacobs sent along a link to a great story from Greece on Reuters,  ‘Lessons in a shrimp farms travails.’ The whole article is worth reading, but here are a few tidbits:

Just over a decade ago, Napoleon Tsanis set out from Sydney with 11 million euros and a dream to build a shrimp farm in his ancestral homeland… What he got was years of wrestling Greek bureaucracy and a court battle with a civil servant…

it’s the civil servants that are throwing you into this labyrinth on purpose,’ Tsanis, 44, said. ‘The law gives them the latitude to delay you or punish you.’

…A process that would take just two or three months to complete in Australia got stuck in a maze of official opinions and permits across several ministries. Greek politicians assured him that the paperwork would be done in 18 months, but that date came and went with no progress.

… then, though, another law change that sought to keep aquaculture projects small meant Tsanis had to break up his farm into sections to go ahead.

…One of the main obstacles to more investment is the legal jumble that dictates how Greek businesses work. Even government officials admit the lack of clear laws and the endless requests for opinions, studies and permits are there to give work to unionized specialists.

‘There are whole businesses and technical offices employing engineers and experts specifically for the purpose of licensing,’ said Tsakanikas at the IOBE think tank.

Red tape often leads to corruption.

Tsanis said he steadfastly refused to bribe anyone. In one incident, in 2005, he appealed to a minister in Athens to get a permit unstuck. ‘The minister called in the public servant who was refusing to give us the permit and ordered him to issue it the next morning,’ he said, declining to specify the minister or ministry involved. ‘When we went back to get it, the civil servant told me: ‘Australian, that guy is a politician and he’ll be gone tomorrow, but I’ll be here waiting for you.

The only European Union country not to have a fully functioning land registry – despite collecting EU funds to set it up and then paying penalties when it failed to do so – Greece still lacks a comprehensive zoning law and building rules.

‘Several interests prefer a fuzzy system they can manipulate,’ Papaconstantinou said. ‘We must simplify building permits, which are a hub of corruption.’

After his shrimp farm opened, Tsanis had hoped to build a 120 million euro golf resort. But when the local authorities decided they didn’t want it, he opted not to fight.

This story rings with several of the themes on this blog, and I can’t resist hitting you over the head a bit.


For the analysis, please read John’s post…