EnetEnglish.gr, 20:22 Tuesday 25 February 2014
Another NGO, this time with New Democracy links, in the spotlight
Ergo Politon (Citizen In Deed) managed to spend €7.5m in culture ministry funds from 2005 to 2011
Set up by former prime minister and culture minister Kostas Karamanlis in 2004, Ergo Politon didn't come cheap: its chairman/CEO was paid €9,500 a month while its offices cost €16,500 a month in rent
An organisation established under a previous New Democracy government to register all the “volunteering organisations” (NGOs) in Greece managed to spent up to €7.5m in state funding from 2005 to 2011, without achieving much of what it was set up to do.
Ergo Politon (Citizen In Deed), which described itself as the "state organisation for volunteerism", was established under a 2005 law which bore the signatures of the then prime minister and culture minister Kostas Karamanlis, four of his cabinet colleagues and President Karolos Papoulias.
Just how the organisation came to spend so much money on the project has been a matter the judicial authorities have looking into since 2011, when the findings of a report by the public sector watchdog fell into their hands.
Reports on the organisation appeared over the weekend, following arrests in a high-profile case involving an NGO with links to former Pasok prime minister George Papandreou.
According to Ergo Politon's statute, the organisation was based at an address at Mesogion Avenue in Athens and was run by a three-person board comprising the chairman/CEO and two nominees, all appointed by the culture minister, who was then Karamanlis, who picked Stelios Sirmoglou to be the first chairman.
As stated on the organisation's bsite, which is still online, Sirmoglou was "born in 1953, is a journalist and a university professor. He has held a number of editorial and directorship general positions for a wide range of national newspapers (Ethnos, Acropolis, Mesimvrini, Evdomi, Cyprus Simerini, Apofasi) and TV and radio networks in Greece (Antenna, Alpha, Greek Orthodox church’s radio station)”.
It also claimed he “worked as a journalist in Great Britain for the Daily Telegraph and BBC, and he has been a communication consultant of the English Conservative Party, during Margaret Thatcher’s incumbency as a prime minister”.
The organisation employed 24 people, one legal consultant and six advisors on volunteerism. Along with the members of the board, they are believed to have been paid about €5m for their services from 2005 to 2011. In his 2011 report, the general inspector of public administration found that recruitment to the organisation in 2005, 2006 and 2007 did not follow the required legal procedures
It also found that the chairman/CEO of the organisation was paid €9,500 a month, which did not include the expenses he took for attending board meetings, payments that were not authorised by the law. In addition, from 2005 to 2009, managers within Ergo Politon were paid allowances that were twice the amount than authorised under the relevant joint ministerial decision. The audit also found that the agency did not follow rules on public procurement and that all general supplies of goods and services to the organisation were arranged by the chairman/CEO.
The public sector watchdog’s report also found that up to 2010, Ergo Politon, paid €16,500 a month for a luxury 703m2 office in Athens Tower, was involved in 45 activities, mostly conferences and workshops.
According to other reports, the NGO was involved in the 2011 Special Olympics in Athens in organising volunteers to help out during the event. That April, the organisation was recorded as having debts of €536,252.50.
Genuine NGOs recall Ergo Politon as being a “construct”, set up to direct sponsorship from companies into particular NGOs. The idea was that NGOs which registered with Ergo Politon would declare that they operated in a transparent manner. Ergo Politon would then advise sponsors where their sponsorship should go.
But as senior NGO representatives have told Eleftherotypia, it never carried out that function. Rather, they believed it was set up to provide jobs to certain people.
Tzanetos Antypas, of the NGO Praksis, said the voluntary sector had called for an organisation to be set up to create an institutional framework for NGOs in the country. In 2004, he said, the economic fraud squad had sent 170 files on NGOs to the prosecutor. “But since 2004, these files have been in a drawer and one is pulled out whenever it serves a need,” he said, adding that all of this preceded the scandal at the foreign ministry in which tens of millions of development aid, distributed to NGOs via Hellenic Aid, is unaccounted for.
What Ergo Politon says about itself
Deeply honored by the Hellenic State's appointment, to carry out the founding spirit of Citizen In Deed, we face in it the great challenges confided in the innermost and sterling aspirations of Greek society, as well as those of the international community of our times. Citizens shall appraise our goals upon palpable deed.
Our mission is tried amongst admirable achievements and unfitting embarrassments. Should we prove short of expectations, we shall have turned a priceless prospect into a blow, a painful blow to the moral sense that esteems the values of Civil Society.
Yet, we shall meet our commitments. It is a timely international exigency, that we vest our society in trust. We step forward to beckon to the citizen, to all with no regard to wherewithal. The citizen inspires us, paves the way and monitors our work. To the citizen we account for, to proudly share and rejoice; to the citizen, indeed.
Dr Stelios Sirmoglou
Chairman & CEO