ECONOMY

Too many cooks spoil the 2004 broth

The commencement of Olympic projects assigned to Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava is beginning to reveal weaknesses in the collaboration between Athens 2004, the organizers, and the responsible ministries. This is exemplified by technical flaws, such as the absence of security planning in part of the projects. Meanwhile, the impending replacement of executives holding key positions in the organizing committee, which began with the changes in the management of the Workers’ Housing Organization (OEK) overseeing construction of the Olympic Village, is estimated to make matters worse. For this reason, and despite recent favorable comments, officials of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) are said to be concerned. Already, IOC has asked Athens 2004 to submit daily progress reports on the projects; Dennis Oswald, head of IOC’s coordinating committee for the event, told The Los Angeles Times last week that daily reports are necessary due to delays in the past. At the same time, certain people in the Projects Directorate of Athens 2004 are said to be praying for further delays, which will catapult prefabs to the fore as the heaven-sent solution. Prefabs are almost the sole important activity which the Projects Directorate has retained, said an official who considers that ministries have assumed the main burden of projects. Athens 2004 has been restricted to a secondary role for some time now, with state agencies dealing out assignments to construction companies. Nevertheless, a number of officials of Athens 2004 have retained important functions: In the last few days, they have been working on more direct assignments to Calatrava, who has already undertaken the 4.5-billion-drachma study on overhauling the Olympic Stadium complex. The new assignment concerns the complex’s outdoor swimming pool, which is planned for conversion to an indoor facility. Calatrava’s cooperation with Athens 2004 has even given rise to questions in Parliament concerning the cost of this project, estimated at several billions of drachmas. Many consider it impossible for it to be carried out in time and that it will simply mean the drawing up of a costly study. Others argue that the existing facility does not meet IOC’s specifications for certain events and will be replaced by a new, deeper swimming pool in an adjacent area. Officials reject the view that this reflects bad planning, saying the specifications have changed since the facility was built. The clash about control of projects and their specifications began some months ago but has intensified in recent days as the volume of construction work, and therefore, the number of oversights, has increased. Athens 2004 officials are refusing to accept the way in which certain projects are being handled by the supervisory agencies. The latter simply brief Athens 2004 on their decisions occasionally. The oversights already noticed include the lack of comprehensive planning for security installations in Olympics sports grounds. Some fear that in the end we will be knocking walls down and digging up the turf in order to install security systems. A few weeks ago, the responsible ministries surprised the engineers of 2004 when – in an effort to give a gloss to preparations in view of Oswald’s latest visit – they began issuing project tenders without having completed the auction documents. Naturally, the documents had not been approved by the responsible department of Athens 2004. The specific practice is used as a rule for projects in the EU-subsidized Third Community Support Framework investment plan, said a senior government official. He argued that the method speeds up the auctioning of projects. Nobody can dispute the fact that the Greek economy has taken big steps in the right direction in the last few years, especially in the field of fiscal consolidation. Nevertheless, the obvious discrepancy demonstrated by a declining debt-to-GDP ratio and a rising public debt in the face of large primary budget surpluses calls for drastic action. The physical introduction of the euro makes the implementation of structural reforms more urgent than ever before.