ECONOMY

Development Ministry will crack down on illegal street vendors

The Development Ministry will, as its main priority, enforce rules against illicit street trade well before the Olympic Games, Deputy Minister Yiannis Papathanassiou told reporters yesterday. Papathanassiou also announced that the ministry will strengthen the Competition Commission in order for the latter to move «swiftly and effectively» against price cartels. (In the face of rising prices, which threaten to get out of control as everyone tries to cash in on Olympics visitors, the new conservative government is taking yet another step away from its pre-election rhetoric that the market can regulate itself without «police measures,» as it dubbed the previous government’s efforts to bring prices down.) Papathanassiou said that tackling illicit trade is his No. 1 priority, since «this situation with illicit street vendors is out of control and we must put an end to it.» He said the crackdown on illicit street vendors, the overwhelming majority of whom are immigrants, was necessary in order for street commerce to operate «on a healthy basis.» A law cracking down on illicit trade was introduced by the previous government in Parliament and adopted last autumn. Papathanassiou said that the presidential decrees necessary to implement the law are being studied and will be published «immediately.» Papathanassiou also remarked that tackling illicit trade was not only the concern of the Development Ministry, but other ministries, as well. «We need collective action,» he said, adding that cooperation was necessary with the ministries of Economy and Finance and Public Order in order to tackle organized illicit trade networks. The Development Ministry’s aim is to suppress illicit trade in Athens and other major cities ahead of the Olympics, which will take place in August. (On Tuesday, Athens Mayor Dora Bakoyannis promised a municipal crackdown in seven weeks’ time on unlicensed street vendors and on shop owners who cram the city’s narrow pavements with their wares. She said that that once an extra 500 municipal policemen hit the streets of Athens at the beginning of June – raising the force to 630 – tough action will be taken against all illegal street vendors. «Order will be imposed,» she said. Currently, only 160 people hold municipal permits to sell wares from stalls and carts in the city center, where thousands of illegal vendors have set up shop, to the intense annoyance of shopkeepers.) Competition Commission Papathanassiou said that the necessary changes in the existing legal framework will be made to strengthen the Competition Commission’s role. He added that he would not replace the commission’s chairman, Spyros Zissimopoulos, appointed by the previous government, and that he expected a report from the commission on how to improve its functioning and make certain that its power does not violate European Union laws on competition. Yesterday, Papathanassiou and Zissimopoulos held extensive talks over the commission’s new role. After the meeting, Zissimopoulos said that the commission is under restructuring and that it will focus on cartel phenomena but that it is not within its remit to crack down on price-gouging. The commission will soon prepare a study about the fuel market, Zissimopoulos added.