ECONOMY

Bureaucratic delays, litigation threaten implementation of scores of IT projects

Information technology projects worth more than 200 million euros have stalled due to court action, bureaucracy and the negligence of the public agencies that are responsible for their implementation. Tenders have been dragging on for more than 18 months, with dozens of appeals by bidding contractors, while in several instances authorities did not meet the commitments they had made at the start of the year to ensure that European Union funds would not be lost. Very few state corporations are the exception, such as the General Secretariat for IT Systems of the Economy Ministry, which realize projects at rapid rates. The competent ministries (Economy and Interior) consider it certain that dozens of the projects included in the «Information Society» (Infosoc) 3-billion-euro program will not be implemented. Therefore they have concentrated on completing specific projects with a tangible impact on the everyday life of citizens, such as the development of electronic services. The number of projects that will remain on paper and the level of the funds lost are connected to the efforts for an extension to the EU-funded Third Community Support Frame work of subsidies and the possibility of inclusion in the following CSF. Hurdles Projects such as the technological upgrading of the military hospitals (a project known as «Philippos,») the IT system of Attica’s Second Regional Health and Welfare System and a multitude of tenders for the infrastructure of prefectural authorities are involved in a storm of appeals. In the two hospital projects the favorite bidder Intracom is using all legal means but is not alone in appealing. The relevant tenders were proclaimed a year and a half ago, but no one knows when a contractor is chosen. In the case of the IASIS program, with a 65-million-euro budget, former health minister and newly elected Athens Mayor Nikitas Kaklamanis had officially stated that the tender would be proclaimed in fall 2005. A year on, the project is under examination by the EU authorities and hospitals remain in a technologically primitive state amid many allegations of corruption in procurements and bad management of funds. The management of Infosoc puts the blame on the companies, arguing that the appeals are the main cause for the delays. The companies, in turn, believe that the standards of the projects, which allow for subjective assessments by committees as well as bureaucracy, delay tenders. The president of Infosoc, Constantinos Doukas, recently argued that in around 110 projects there were as many as 90 appeals. Today, Infosoc projects budgeted at 125 million euros are involved in appeals or the contracts’ approval is delayed by the State Audit Council. «The responsibility does not lie with the companies,» counters Panayiota Paparidou, the representative of the Federation of Hellenic IT and Communications Enterprises (SEPE), to the governing board of Infosoc. She adds that the workload of the country’s justice system also contributes in the delays. For instance, a decision about an injunction must be issued within 15 days by law, yet there are cases that have not been examined for six months. In another instance the State Audit Council did not approve a contract for the IT system of Hellenic Post (ELTA), ruling that a judge should not have participated in the assessment committee. However, it had approved other contracts in which the same judge had participated. In order to avoid losing resources, about 20 public corporations had committed at the start of this year to absorbing a specific amount of funds and the signing of contracts. The account data is disappointing: Infosoc had committed itself to signing contracts of 290 million euros and in the first half of the year it signed no more than seven contracts, worth 13 million euros. The National Land Registry had promised contracts of 76 million euros and within 2006 has failed to sign a single one. The Manpower Organization (OAED) had pledged to initiate projects worth 40 million euros but in the first six months they only signed one contract worth 580,000 euros. The course of the projects promoted by the General Secretariat for IT Systems of the Economy Ministry shows at least that where the political will exists (coming from the need to increase public revenues) the projects proceed. «The ministry’s needs are pressing,» said the general secretary for IT systems, Dimitris Anagnostopoulos. He argues that over the first four months of the year tenders worth 20 million euros were proclaimed.