Gov’t shows consumer-friendly face, starting with bank loan charges The Development Ministry will send letters to the Bank of Greece and the Hellenic Banks Association (EET) asking them to ensure that commercial banks immediately comply with an appeals court ruling Wednesday declaring illegal and abusive 15 terms in mortgage loan contracts that impose additional charges on borrowers, sources said. EET yesterday considered at length the challenge it plans to mount against the ruling by the Supreme Court and its defense is said to be based on past circulars by the central bank which endorse certain of the additional charges, such as those for «file management» and for early repayment of the mortgage. Separately, the ministry is planning to announce soon a series of measures to promote consumer protection, including the introduction of a Consumer Ombudsman. New Deputy Development Minister Kimon Koulouris said the ministry will intensify market checks to prevent profiteering. «In a short time, we shall ‘scan’ the whole of Attica and the same procedure will be followed in the regions,» he said. Mineral water and refreshment bottling firms have been given three more weeks to display recommended prices on their products. CSFIII absorption rates make slow progress, crucial sectors lag Information Society, Competitiveness and Health-Welfare are the three programs under the European Union-subsidized Third Community Support Framework (CSFIII) investment plan that face the most delays, with absorption rates around 12-13 percent. Total absorption of CSFIII – which runs until 2006 – at the end of June stood at 22 percent, from 18 percent at the end of 2002. According to Economy Ministry data, the parts of programs activated by the end of June represented budgets totaling 25.5 billion euros, or 80 percent of the CSFIII total. Banks The government intends to promote the merger of Postal Savings Bank (PSB) with the Bank of Attica (both state-controlled), Transport and Communications Minister Christos Verelis said after a ministerial meeting yesterday. If this does not materialize, PSB will be part-floated on the Athens bourse, he said. Separately, Aspis Bank said it agreed to buy out Standard Chartered Grindlays Bank in Greece, which has two branches (Athens and Piraeus) and specializes in corporate and private banking. «The move is part of a strategy of conservative expansion through acquisition of complementary sectors of banking activities,» said a statement. Aspis recently also acquired ABN Amro’s network in Greece. Tourism UK bookings for Greek destinations were up 22 percent year-on-year in June, according to A.C. Nielsen market research firm. The Green National Tourism Organization said it projects the number of UK visitors to reach at least last year’s 3 million; at the end of June, the total number of visitors were at the same level as a year earlier. Construction Private building activity increased 19.8 percent in the first quarter year-on-year, according to the National Statistics Service.