ECONOMY

In Brief

Gov’t sees competition, not ceilings, dampening rising fuel prices The government and opposition yesterday clashed in Parliament over the former’s policy of refusing to impose ceilings on rising fuel prices, which are causing widespread anxiety in the marketplace. «The no-ceiling logic means that the next months will be paradise for profiteers and hell for the low-paid and small businesses,» said former PASOK minister Christos Papoutsis. His colleague Akis Tsochadzopoulos said prices fell considerably when the previous government imposed a ceiling in nine districts last year. Development Minister Dimitris Sioufas countered their arguments by saying that «the consumer is the best bulwark,» and noting that ceilings induce the gasoline stations with the lowest prices to put them up and everyone to maintain them high after the measure is withdrawn. He said the government plans to bolster the Competition Commission’s powers in cases of harmonized practices and profiteering, prepare a study on lengthening the pricing periods of refineries and fuel distributors, step up inspections throughout the supply chain and activate the General Secretariat for Consumers «which has remained inert for seven years.» Sioufas also announced an overhaul of the system for collecting fines from profiteers, as violators to date have managed not to pay «a single euro» by wrongfully filing for injunctions. Separately, food distributors warned the Development Ministry of price increases if the fuel price rally continues. Traders long for individualized treatment of tax cases The National Confederation of Greek Commerce (ESEE) urged the Finance Ministry to allow businesses and the self-employed to conduct their own accounting inspections on an optional basis in order to obtain a clean tax bill for the fiscal years from 1999 to 2001, instead of an arrangement providing for blanket settlement sums. ESEE argued its proposal would free firms of past obstructive burdens, not result in a loss of revenue for the government, and free ministry staff for more productive work in the fight against tax evasion and illegal commerce. Separately, small manufacturers’ and artisans’ representatives said the maintenance of presumed criteria of revenue in the tax bill now being prepared will lead to the demise of many small firms. Epathlon? Alpha Bank’s website for its silver and gold Epathlon 2004 Visa credit cards, which were launched last year with the promise of benefits and privileges related to the Olympic Games, still provides no indication of what these benefits are. Alpha Bank is the official bank of the Games. Industrial output Greek industrial output expanded for the second month in a row in March, helped by a sharp jump in mining, natural gas and water production, data from the country’s statistics service shows. Industrial output rose 3.8 percent year-on-year after a 2.5 percent rise in February; manufacturing output increased 2.6 percent year-on-year compared with a 1.7 percent rise. (Reuters)