ECONOMY

State spending in need of control

A Finance Ministry report shows that there would be great potential for saving public money if the state improved its control over prefectural authorities and local government bodies, in view of numerous cases of overspending, or rather, wasting public money. A close analysis of data collected shows that owing to the high amounts of money wasted, a curtailment could allow public finances to take a deep breath. An example of wasted state funds is the case involving student transportation schemes. In the name of free education, local government authorities have undertaken the task of providing transportation to pupils to and from school in nearby villages. The measure applies only to pupils who live in villages that have no school. The survey showed that even if the state paid for a daily taxi service for each student, it would spend less than what prefectures are spending to provide the service. Prefectures are asking the state for 170 million euros annually for the transportation expenses of a total of 177,000 students who live in villages with no school. This translates into almost 1,000 euros for each student per year. Seen from a different angle, in the 13 years of primary and secondary education, the state would pay the families of such students an amount of nearly 13,000 euros. That is, the state may as well buy them a car so they can drive to school on their own. Having documented the waste, the Finance Ministry decided to cut the specific funding to 100 million euros. Indicative of the overall situation currently prevailing is the fact that tighter state control of local government authorities and other supervised bodies and agencies, could earn the state the entire financial support required for the Social Cohesion Fund, amounting to 2 billion euros. However, the threat of halting the student transportation service forces central administrations to allocate the respective funds, though they then fail to ascertain whether they are properly managed or not. Data from the General Accounts Office provide evidence of wasted funds also in road improvement projects. Prefectures currently receive 90 million euros a year to pay for works aimed at repairing and improving stretches of national highways. Recently, the government assigned the task of improving an additional 6,000 kilometers of roads, overall valued at 17.5 million euros. But prefectures still demanded and received 50 million euros from the Finance Ministry. Another area considered to be indicative of the waste is the transportation of civil engineers, architects etc, for which prefectural authorities have managed to secure 10 million euros on a yearly basis.