Wednesday, April 17, 2013

"The simple material expression of gratitude is NOT a bribe!"

This piece from the KeepTalkingGreece website is priceless! According to the article, Greece passed a law which legalizes the bribes asked by doctors and civil servants. Better known as fakelaki.

I love the phrase that 'the simple material expression of gratitude is not a bribe'. Apparently, it was originally meant to say that 'the simple material expression of gratitude with no monetary value is not a bribe' but some objected to the 4 simple words 'with no monetary value'.

What is not quite clear to me is whether this has indeed become the law or not. If yes, something which should go into the annals of humorous legislative tales has indeed turned into what can only be considered as an absolute scandal!


  1. An anecdote from the world of computer software sales, regarding the intersection of bribery and personal morality.

    Many computer software companies make a very good living indeed from selling software or services to government bodies. The sales process can be very involved, and the government employees concerned have very strict guidelines against bribery.

    So: experienced software service salesman is wandering around a big government customer meeting and greeting the decision-makers. He knows the customer very well, and stops to have a chat with a technical decision-maker who he's known for over 10 years, and with whom he uses the familiar "Du" rather than the formal "Sie".

    And he puts one of his company's coffee mugs (the things that marketing departments order by the thousand) on the technical decision-makers desk.

    "What's that for?" Asks the technical guy, surprised.

    "Just a little gift, to say thanks" answers the salesman.

    "Take it away please" says the customer, sounding edgy, but still using the familiar "Du".

    "What's wrong?" Asks the salesman, confused.

    "Herr XX, take this coffee cup away and do not ever approach me in this manner again" Shouts the customer, now using "Sie".

    And yet on the other hand, germany has been a laggard in passing legislation against foreign bribery, which was widely tolerated (see Siemens, for example) until about 2004.

  2. "Knowing something in half, is worse than ignoring it totally" - greek proverb.

    An excellent example, of why journalism is a profession and not a hobby for bloggers (who copy-paste the nonsense of another blogger or understand "news" according to their political affiliation) and why i stopped replying in foreign discussions where ignorance is a bliss.

    The official reply of the ministry:

    "It is obvious, that the law concerns exclusively gifts of symbolic value, such as books, pens etc and not of significant value or even more, in money. As a matter of fact with the new law:

    - Becomes compulsory the fine equal to 50 times the amount of money received by the public servant, who took advantage of his position and the need of the citizen.
    - It is widened the circle of public servants who embezzled public money as far as the severity of the crime is concerned and the punishment.
    - It is introduced a fast trial procedure for the high severity crime cases, as in the case of state officials.
    - The enquiring judges are granted the right of lifting any bank, fiscal confidenciality, as well as freezing bank accounts.
    - It is introduced for the first time, the figure of anti-corruption district attorney.

    It is noted, that the law was voted by all parliament parties, except one that voted "present" and one that didn't partecipate in the vote".

    The problem with the fakelaki, isn't what any blogger may or may not understand by (not) reading the law. It is that there is no way of enforcing the law, unless they put in every hospital a "hunter" of such cases. Otherwise, the only way to "catch" a doctor is after a citizen denounces the event to the police. But the majority doesn't. In the case of hospitals, out of fear. Because, the fakelaki, isn't given to a day hospital doctor. It is usually given to surgeons BEFORE an operation, often without being asked by the doctor himself, but by the patient out of fear that if he doesn't give it, the doctor won't show particular interest in his case.

    The fakelaki was a way of the greek state to "counterbalance" the fact that doctors were badly paid. The implicit accord was "ok, you are overworked and underpaid surgeon, but well, we know you can get fakelaki, so we are all good". Nowdays, the state pays the extra time and night shifts with 7-8 months delay. But the fakelaki won't stop with any law. If you want it stopped, you need an inspector inside the hospital at all time (you may call it "patient's advocate" if you like, like , that will encourage patients to denounce the incident of a doctor that either asked a fakelaki or didn't but accepted it the same, when the patient tried to give it to him.

    In the greek province, it is also a possibility, that a patient brings AFTERWARDS to his doctor (not necessarity a surgeon) or lawyer or other professions, a gift. For example, he may bring you a country-bred chicken. This is what the "scandal" is about. The real scandal, is that persons keep insisting on the letter of the law, and not in the substance of the question, which is how to APPLY the law.


    1. Thank you for the clarification!

    2. "The fakelaki was a way of the greek state to "counterbalance" the fact that doctors were badly paid."

      It reminds me to an evening with a friend few weeks ago. We were in a restaurant, had a good meal and paid. She did not offer the smallest tip - I looked surprised. She saw my look and told me energically, that she refuses tipping money due to moralising reasons: Tips are the beginning of bribery and of unfair underpayment.
      She want not support a too low payment of waiters or hairdressers (or taxi drivers) by paying tip to restock their loan. She instead prefers going to fair (means higher) priced restaurants or hairdresser shops. (And as I know her, she do what she says, even if she is not rich at all. We were in a restaurant cooking biologic-organic-fair... ).

      Even if I found her rigid standing quite hard, she is true in the core.
      Corruption and the acceptance of underpayment starts with common usage of small tips for waiters and big fakelakis even for doctors etc.

      By the way, she is german, but catholoc, not lutherian. ;-)

  3. I erroneously deleted this anonymous comment.

    Anonymous has left a new comment on your post ""The simple material expression of gratitude is NO...":

    There is also a rather obvious difference between something done in "bribe" and something done in "gratitude". The fakelaki, by definition, is given in order to OBTAIN a favour or to "secure" the assistance of the doctor. Surgeons are the usual recipients, exactly because it is a matter of life and death or permanent injury, so the frightened patient gives the fakelaki to make sure the doctor will take care of him. It is by all means an illegal payment (i give you this money, so that you don't kill me). NOBODY (unless he is a fool), will give fakelaki, at the point where he no longer needs the doctor. For the same reason, the doctors who explicitely ask for fakelaki, do so before the operation (while you still need him). If a doctor operates someone and afterwards he tells the patient "oh, by the way, i want fakelaki", the patient will normally say "i ll call the police", because he doesn't need the doctor anymore...

    On the contrary, for an act to be of gratitude, the service must have preceded the gift. For example, my brother is a lawyer. It has occured, that after an unexpectedly good outcome of a trial, the customer, who paid the regular fee, returned after a week with a jar of honey or a chicken or even an antire lamb for Easter. This is simply an act of gratitude, exactly because the service given is now over, but is a way of showing appreciation beyond the formal fee.

    Unfortunately, the sensationalistic nature of the title (the issue was raised by an "inspector of pubblic administration", who i don't know if he is scientifically fit to examine the law, but certainly, instead of analyzing laws, he 'd better do something more concrete about the current state of pubblic administration, since his job is to ensure the actual functioning of the pubblic sector, not the interpretation of the laws (there are judges for that).

  4. Hmm. I too saw this post on the blog, and was very surprised to find nothing in Greek newspapers and elsewhere. Therefore I was in doubt that it is correct, although it is perfectly possible that the law is a terrible piece of legislation open to abuse (by citizens or by the state). Most Greek laws seem to follow this pattern...

    However, there is one thing that I do feel able to comment on, which is related to the last post by Anonymous. That is the temporal issue in Greece. I continue to be flabbergasted at the sheer ignorance of Greece's lawmakers concerning the importance of time and how it related to formal documentation.

    A remarkable case concerns this business of notices to be displayed in Greek and English about "apodeksi". It is absolutely clear that this is a receipt for payment received and can ONLY be given after that payment has been made. Yet the State is demanding that the document be issued (ie printed as a formal transaction) before payment. Well, in any normal country the document before payment is an invoice, and is a demand for payment. If Greek authorities really wanted to formalise the retail sector, then they would have to have both these documents issued in the correct temporal fashion. And I have to say that (with the exception of taxis) I have had more trouble with getting receipts in Vienna and London than in Athens.

    This same temporal principle applies with fakelaki or "gifts". If they are made after the fact, then they have a very different character from before the fact. Secondly, there is a world of difference between a wad of money inside an envelope and a small gift, even one with some limited monetary value.

    I have only one major incident with Greek healthcare, and I gratefully thanked my surgeon with a small painting after the operation. He had asked for nothing. On the other hand, two close Greek friends of mine (whom I trust) have told me of the deaths of their parents in private hospitals. In the middle of the night, one was told to produce 15,000 euros in cash or his father could die of heart failure. In the other, the total expenditure on simple care for an elderly relative came to over 150,000 euros and was grossly negligent and with extreme medical incompetence. IN both case, the children of elderly parents were blackmailed into giving fakelaki to save the lives (not that they did) of their fathers.

    So, given that these incidents are commonplace, does the new law make and difference to the reality? Somehow, I doubt it -- but I remain open to correction.

    1. @ Xenos,

      From your observations i must assume that you are freshly estabslished in Greece. Let me enlighten you. 3 different terms you should know:

      - Apodeiksi= receipt.
      - Timologio = Invoice.
      - Deltio apostolis = consignment note.

      The issuing a receipt on retail purchases prior to payment, is an idea of the current goverment, in order to enforce the new rule of "you don't have to pay, if they don't give you a receipt". This is the latest "invention", to force shop owners to give receipts.

      Read more here:

      On a sidenote, if you expect a taxi driver, in particular an Athens taxi driver, to give you a receipt, you will wait for a long time...

      The law about bribery won't do anything, unless one of the 2 things happen:
      1) People denounce at the police the doctors, instead of just telling their friends about it. Which is the exception rather than the rule.
      2) The state installs a "patient's advocate" or "patient's defender" inside the hospital and why not, a specific "Patient's Tribunal" to process quickly cases against doctors. The people must still denounce the fact rather than tell their friends, but it may help having "assistance closeby".

      Otherwise, the current procedure if you want to be bulletproof is: You go to the police, police registers the banknote numbers, you give them to the doctor, the police enters doctor's office immediately, finds the registered banknotes, doctor is accused, trial will occur in some years...

      The current law tries to "hold off" doctors by "fear". Meaning, the high fine and the fact that it is now in the highest scale of crimes and thus punishment. But a doctor accustomed for years to take bribes, won't stop that easily, because simply he feels invulnerable. Like smokers who think "lung cancer won't hit ME".

      Similar is the problem with bribes in other state officials. If you just bribe but never denounce, it will never stop...

    2. @Anonymous. No. I am not a newcomer. Probably my continued amazement at Greek malakies is what led you to that conclusion!

      Yes, I agree with your views. It is highly unlikely that Greek citizens will complain to the police -- partly because they don't trust or like the police. As usual, Greeks will be passive yet highly vocal victims -- complaining loudly to relatives and friends, but making no impact on the corruption itself.

    3. Ah, no, i thought you were newcomer, because it was pretty much debated on the media about the new receipt procedure (the shop owners were immediately against).

      Well, leftist greeks don't like the police in general. But in the doctor's case, it's not lack of trust or disliking. It is a combination of a) fear for the life of the patient and b) the idea of having to be dragged in court for the issue twice (1st degree and appeal), which will take years to finish. So at the end it's "i will pay and complain about it to my relatives/friends".

      This is why i am in favour of something else as legislative solution, apart from the usual "scarecrow" law that hopes to instill fear to the doctor... Unfortunately, in order to instill fear, you must have the law "burning" several doctors, so that the others understand that things have become tough. It is the same as tax evasion. Why would a tax evader stop tax evasion, when he knows that the chances that he will be caught are very slim? The SDOE manpower and networking, is simply insufficient to instill fear to the tax evader... It is like being on an empty motorway in a Ferrari and knowing that there is no police car to stop you if you start speeding. The temptation to step on the accelerator, suddenly becomes too high...

      P.S.: I suspect you are British. Or American, but less likely. In case you are British, i am sorry for you, you won't have a good time in Greece and probably never manage to muster the language either.


  5. I Think the best in fakelaki are German big companies around the world. f.example let see
    SIEMENS . They are Professors in fakelaki with all these people behind them. Who are behind of them ?
    No Greek people of course.
    I think will be a good idea to search at first in Germany big companies. Are specialists in fakelaki international.

    George G.