Jobs fading from incentives

The government is preparing to endorse a longstanding demand of employers by disengaging investment incentives from job creation in a draft bill planned to be tabled in the fall. «How many jobs an investment can create will no longer be an important criterion for subsidization. The emphasis will rather be on whether it can become viable and help development,» Deputy Economy Minister Christos Folias told reporters yesterday. The new investment incentives law will stay in force for two years before it is replaced in 2007 by one that will take into account EU guidelines for the 2007-2013 period. Sources said the Economy Ministry is already in consultations with Brussels, while staff are studying the equivalent incentives of other member states that appear be yielding better results than Greece’s, such as Ireland, Portugal, Cyprus and the Czech Republic. Folias said a 300-million-euro program of state support for small and medium-sized enterprises will be launched in the fall, to be exclusively managed by banks so as to avoid bureaucratic tangles. A framework of cooperation has already been agreed upon with banks. Firms will apply for investment support to their banks, which will evaluate the proposals. There will be no deadline for the submission of applications. Folias also said the government is seeking the greater involvement of private enterprise in the financing and operation of public projects and is drawing up the necessary legal framework. Private firms will be able to build and operate hospitals and other public works, marinas and even waste landfills on the basis of private financial initiatives (PFI) and concession agreements. Possible projects include the completion of hospitals in Katerini and Corfu, the fire brigade headquarters, a marina on Myconos and landfills near Athens. «Such projects can proceed directly from the private sector,» Folias said, adding that similar agreements reached under the previous PASOK government were not in the public interest, as they had favorable loopholes for private operators. He said the new provisions will ensure that such tricks will not be used again. Until the new legislation is ready, the practice of pushing a special bill through Parliament for each concession project, as for Attiki Odos highway and Athens airport, will be maintained. He acknowledged that several such concession projects, such as the Rio-Antirio bridge, underground car parks in Athens and Thessaloniki, wind parks and small hydroelectric projects have been successful, while others, like the gold-mining project in Halkidiki, several marinas and the Athens horse-racing facility have either failed or still face serious delays.