Crunch time for the Information Society challenge

The Interior and Economy ministries, which are managing the much-heralded project of improving the pace of Greece’s cumbersome bureaucracy, namely the Information Society program, seem to be facing an impossible task. Certified absorbed expenses under the program, which comes under the European Union-subsidized Third Community Support Framework (CSF III) investment plan, must reach 520 million euros, and contracts worth a further 1 billion euros will have to be signed by the end of the year in order for subsidies not to be lost. Last year, only 350 million euros were absorbed, mostly through accounting «acrobatics,» after the signing of contracts worth 1.5 billion took four years. At yesterday’s extraordinary meeting of the national committee monitoring the progress of the Information Society program, Interior and Economy ministers Prokopis Pavlopoulos and Giorgos Alogoskoufis respectively warned the responsible agencies that if they did not speed up implementation, the opportunity will be gone forever. Contracts totaling 250 million euros will have to be signed in the next 10 months for broadband facilities, 200 million for training programs, 400 million for the development of digital services designed to facilitate and simplify citizens’ transactions with public administration, 60 million euros for improving productivity in the public sector and another 60 million for the education and culture sectors. «The road is especially steep and rough,» said Pavlopoulos, who acknowledged that public agencies are not appropriately staffed for the implementation of the projects. «The state budget cannot afford to finance careless execution of the program. Delays imply a high cost for the economy and uncertain developments,» said Alogoskoufis. The main opposition PASOK party said in a statement that all the Information Society projects had been planned during its term, in 2002 and 2003, and that the delays by the present government are inexplicable. It noted that broadband Internet services have a penetration of just 1 percent in the public sector, the lowest in the European Union.