Engineers object to draft bill on new assignment rules for project studies The Technical Chamber of Greece (TEE) has called for a nationwide abstention of engineers from work on May 28, in protest against the draft bill on the studies for public and private building projects, tabled on Friday. TEE charged that the provision allowing government departments to directly assign studies (without tender) for projects budgeted up to 35,000 euros «dictates the logic of intertwined interests under opaque conditions» and that the bill does not provide for the studies assigned by public organizations, which account for most project studies in the public sector. TEE is further opposed to the provision abolishing fees for studies as a percentage of project budgets; the measure, however, is said to have been designed to stop engineers from inflating budgets. TEE countercharges that study tenders without minimum fee specifications can easily lead to the practice of excessive discounts which winning bidders soon forget, as in the construction of public works in the past. EU lays ground for joint production of electricity and heating EU energy ministers in Brussels yesterday agreed on a draft directive for the joint production of electricity and heating across a broad spectrum of applications, aimed at promoting energy savings and reducing gas emissions. The ministers, including for the first time those of the 10 new members, also adopted a text of conclusions on the EU’s international energy relations, particularly with Russia, and approved the goals of the forthcoming Euro-Mediterranean energy summit in Athens (May 20 and 21), which will set the priorities for the next three years. Bank of Cyprus The Bank of Cyprus posted a 17.5 percent fall in first-quarter, pretax profits yesterday, weighed down by higher bad debt provisioning. The bank said pretax profits for the first quarter reached 8.7 million Cyprus pounds compared to 10.5 million in the corresponding first quarter of 2002. The bank said the fall was because of the low bad debts included in accounts for the first quarter of 2002. Net profit was 9.7 percent down at 6.1 million pounds. Lower growth domestically and internationally forced the bank into drastically higher provisioning for the rest of last year, particularly the fourth quarter. The bank made bad debt provisions worth 80.1 million pounds last year, eating into overall profits. The group posted a 14-million-pound pretax profit for the whole of 2002, also taking a hit from investment writedowns. (Reuters) Quakes Only 3 percent of housing in Greece is insured against earthquake damage despite the country accounting for about 50 percent of all seismic activity in Europe, insurance officials told a conference in Thessaloniki; the September 1999 earthquake that hit the Athens area caused damage of 1.5 trillion drachmas (4.5 billion euros) but insurance firms paid out only 40 billion drachmas (120 million euros) in compensation. Seismology professor Anastasia Kyriazi called for legislation linking the cost of insurance to how earthquake-prone an area is and to the quality of construction. Heracles French cement group Lafarge has categorically denied Greek press reports that it is considering selling part or the whole of its controlling stake in cement company Heracles.