ECONOMY

Graft claim angers Souflias

Public Works and Environment Minister Giorgos Souflias yesterday reacted angrily to a claim in a study, aired on Wednesday, that kickbacks in the sector of technical studies and the construction of public projects in Greece are estimated at about 300 million euros annually. «The ministry has not received a copy of the study. But really, how can one put the sum at 300 million, and not 200 or 400 million? I don’t understand it,» he told a special press briefing. Souflias said he was «very angry» at the «thoughtless act» of the president of the Technical Chamber of Greece (TEE), Yiannis Alavanos, who referred to the study by National Technical University of Athens Emeritus Professor Theodoros Tassios, noting that Alavanos did not mention the time of the interviews on which the claim was based. The study, which will be officially presented at a conference on April 19-21, claims that the corruption in the sector includes engineers and various middlemen, but also «persons who have a guiding role in the assignment of projects, including politicians.» Souflias, nevertheless, did recognize that phenomena of graft are «among the biggest problems of the Greek economy» but said the newly introduced bidding system precludes corrupt practices, at least at the assignment stage. Alavanos described Souflias’s reaction as «positive» and in line with the «common goal of eliminating all negative practices in the construction sector.» Gloom Separately, gloom permeated the general meeting of the association of large construction companies (STEAT), which said in a statement that the crisis in the sector is deepening, «threatening the national economy and decisively fueling unemployment.» STEAT called on the government to expedite procedures for new projects, unblock payments for work already completed that is several months overdue, and institute tax incentives for contractors. Further, it said that public projects are being implemented at the lowest cost in the European Union and asked the government to pursue effectively negotiations with the European Commission regarding its suspension of investment subsidies for cost overruns.