ECONOMY

Management changes

Several changes at the helm of public companies are expected over the next couple of months. The changes may even affect people appointed by the current conservative government, elected last March, as some appointees seem to manage public companies in ways that clash with government promises or to have difficulty in cooperating with the government. The «Olympic truce» evoked by the government may have led to the survival of several appointees from the previous government, whom the ruling New Democracy party had attacked, but also gave the government breathing space to search for qualified replacements or make more informed assessments of the people in place. In accordance with his policy of opening to the middle ground, and helped by the uncertainty and clashes within the opposition Socialists, Premier Costas Karamanlis may choose to keep in place capable people irrespective of political affiliation. However, if the truce extends into next spring, and the election of a new President of the Republic by Parliament, the government may find itself accused by the opposition and especially by its own party base of inaction. It will also provide breathing space to those businesspeople who took advantage of their cozy relationship with the state to fuel the growth, allowing them to regain their footing. Most management changes involve companies overseen by the Ministry of Transport and Communications. Top in the list of minister Michalis Liapis’s priorities is filling the posts of chairman in Hellenic Railways (OSE) and its construction subsidiary, ERGOSE. Both companies are expected to handle large sums of EU money for OSE’s expansion and modernization projects and this will need effective and incorruptible managers. Liapis will also change managing directors in the various Athens transport companies which are deep in debt despite a previous debt settlement, in 1999. ETHEL, the company that manufactures buses and trolleys, had accumulated by last year a debt of 928 million euros. At the moment, and despite an ambitious expansion program, the government is not considering any form of privatization, as the previous conservative administration tried to do with buses, in 1992. Olympic Airways, especially now that its flight operations have been transferred to Olympic Airlines, is on the brink of closure. Besides changing the management, the government is thinking of hiving off activities such as technical support, ground handling and cargo to sell them separately or together with Olympic Airlines. The latter still await a reputable buyer. There are also problems with the new management at OTE. Panayis Vourloumis, a veteran of both the private and public sectors, has drawn the ire of government officials because he continues relying on the people responsible for bringing the former telecom monopoly to the brink of losses and who continue dealing with privileged contractors (such as Intracom), whom Karamanlis had repeatedly attacked while in opposition.