ECONOMY

Changes needed to help push along delayed IT programs

By Fotis Kollias – Kathimerini Delays in the implementation of government programs aimed at improving the country’s information technology (IT) network appear to remain a difficult hurdle for the newly elected conservative government to jump, unless a series of radical changes aimed at slashing delivery times are pushed through. Industry sources said that possible measures include increasing staff numbers assigned to the implementation of programs and changing project assignment methods. Greece appears to be struggling to make use of European Union (EU) funds aimed at improving the country’s IT and telecom networks in the public and private sectors. The IT projects, which belong to the Information Society program, add up to 3 billion euros or about 2 percent of the economy’s total annual output. Industry sources say that government bodies handed the task of implementing programs need a boost, via a higher number of staffers who are to offer improved technical know-how. Concerns are rife that Greece will lose part of the EU funds if it does not speed things up. According to EU guidelines, the country risks losing funds if it does not implement projects totaling at least 350 million euros this year. So far in 2004, only 12 out of a total of 56 projects, each with a budget of more than 5 billion euros, have been signed. The Information Society belongs to the funds awarded to Greece as part of the Third Community Support Framework aimed primarily at upgrading the country’s infrastructure for the 2000 to 2006 period. Experts say that IT programs have been heavily bogged down in excessive bureaucracy. Additionally, a distrust in the industry over the methods chosen by state committees to assign projects have resulted in a large number of appeals being lodged by computer companies. The delays in some cases can reach 12 months. «The harder things get for the companies, the more intense the objections will be,» said one industry source. Among the few larger projects to have gained ground is the Development Ministry’s program aimed at helping companies improve their software and one other project belonging to the Defense Ministry. Another gray area holding back matters are the political motives under which some projects appear to have been given the green light. The awarding of the programs has up till now been handled by a central body rather than directly involving all of those affected. This means that all parties that have an interest may not be at the center of dealings. One possible solution is the formation of a new committee involving all political parties called to oversee where the EU funds will go, IT sources say without giving further details. Industry officials have repeatedly called upon the previous government to speed up the programs. Benefits for Greece’s private IT sector have yet to appear on balance sheets, delays which have also displeased investors. IT companies whose shares are listed on the Athens bourse have repeatedly seen their shares riding a roller coaster as investors speculate over revenues related to the Information Society program. IT stock prices have soared on occasion as players bet that companies will soon reap the benefits, while at other times those shares have plunged as displeased investors tire of waiting for results.