ECONOMY

Efforts to utilize state buildings face absurd snags

The state?s efforts to utilize a number of its assets has hit several strange snags that often appear to border on the absurd.

During this crucial period when the government is striving to solve the country?s fiscal problems, those responsible for the task are up against huge obstacles. This is not about islands or properties of national significance, but efforts to utilize abandoned spaces that have been allowed to fall into serious disrepair or are being used illegally.

The most obvious case in point is that of Athens?s old international airport at Elliniko, which has been abandoned to the elements, but there also are other, less obvious cases.

One is the so-called Keranis building on the Iera Odos thoroughfare south of the city center that the state acquired 12 years ago for some 80 million euros. Attempts to move the ministries of Culture and Finance there failed following the adverse reaction of ministry employees, and part of the building was then conceded to the commission for monitoring and surveying games of chance, EEEP.

The commission has already spent some 50,000 euros on preparing the building to host its staff and information systems. To that end, according to a letter by EEEP, it has installed a fiberoptic network to cover the needs of monitoring OPAP games, video lottery terminals (VLTs) etc.

However in August EEEP was suddenly told it could not go ahead with its transfer to the Keranis building because the space is now also being claimed by the Agricultural Development Ministry, which also has a housing problem and claims the two cannot share the area because the 3,000 square meters EEEP needs would now leave enough space for the ministry to operate properly.

This snag is also holding up the privatization process for OPAP, as it affects the time frame for the development of the VLT network, which is seen as a major carrot for potential investors, provided the network secures an operating license.

And that?s not all: A few months ago, when the state privatization fund (TAIPED) was making plans for the utilization of some of the Xenia hotels and resorts, with the intention of selling them to investors who would expand them into high-quality units, the fund asked then Culture Minister Pavlos Geroulanos not to transfer any of them to local authorities after certain municipalities had asked the minister to pass the hotels on to local councils before TAIPED could get its hands on them. Eventually Geroulanos transferred five Xenia units to local authorities and another two to his Culture Ministry.

A third such story concerns the merging of the Aghia Paraskevi tax office in northern Athens with that of neighboring Holargos. The Holargos building is apparently in violation of the town-planning code, but the local mayor, who opposes the merger, denies this and has sent a team of inspectors to check the building out.

This has added yet another obstacle to the utilization of the 28 state buildings that TAIPED has under its jurisdiction. It is still likely therefore that, depending on the inspection, the state may impose a town-planning fine on itself.