NEWS

Slapdash designs and making a fast euro continue to bedevil many infrastructure projects in Greece

Major public works are going on all over the country, mainly because of the 2004 Olympics but not only. Money is being spent freely, often in unorthodox ways. Assigning project studies worth tens of millions of euros for these major undertakings frequently involves huge kickbacks that can amount to as much as 20 percent of the cost of the project. Expensive Olympic project studies that often cost more than 20 million euros, assigned by administrators wherever they want and for as much as they want, send construction costs skyrocketing, project models with «approximate» budgets that leave a great deal of margin for extras, excessive profits and entangled interests are the order of the day, as are projects carried out without the project designer’s supervision. Other civil engineers are hostage to the construction companies they depend on for their survival. All in all, corruption and chaos reign in the way public works are assigned and executed in Greece. Unaccountability A number of civil engineers claim that if all project designs were carried out to the letter, we would be living in a different Greece. What is certain is that they themselves bear a great part of the blame, whether intentionally or by turning a blind eye, for the unaccountability in the sector. Then there is the lack of transparency, the dealing in kickbacks, slapdash work, the all-powerful and all-pervasive civil administration, and political nepotism. Many worthy design companies have lost or handed over their independence to the construction companies and often survive solely because of them. No one is without responsibility, not even the State. The entire sector needs to be put in order and above all, it needs to regain its lost credibility. A few weeks ago, Environment and Public Works Minister Vasso Papandreou released a draft law on the new institutional framework for public works designs. The provisions in the bill raised a storm of protest from the some 150,000 project designers active in the sector and the 250 civil engineering companies. They claim that the final text, which they say was hastily drawn up and lacks clarity, was drawn up without their input and will lead to a complete downgrading of public works, with far higher costs and even shoddier work. At the heart of the new law is the separation of the civil engineers’ fee from the project budget. It is common knowledge that in project designs these days, there is absolutely no meritocracy, transparency or proper competition. Plans for major projects being implemented are incomplete, and an incomplete plan is the contractor’s best excuse to start overcharging. By negotiation Projects are assigned in an unorthodox manner. For example, civil engineers for most Olympic projects currently under way were assigned by negotiation, that is without bids being called. This procedure not only gets around any concept of transparency but also involves huge under-the-table payments which often amount to 20 percent of the total cost. The most common system of bidding is where the budget is calculated approximately and often without the participation of the civil engineer. This lack of transparency leaves large margins for overcharging precisely because there is no clear objective and the budget starts from a completely nebulous foundation. At no time in the last 21 years – that is since European Community aid began to flow into Greece – have civil engineers been asked to supervise the projects they themselves have designed. They are always absent from the construction process, in other words, not held responsible or backed up by the civil service. A glaring example of this is the Kifissos River, where not even the public prosecutor could find out the names of the project designers and their plans. The civil engineers claim that construction contractors often change their designs to such a degree that the final product bears no resemblance to the original plan. They hint that the constructors did not want them in the way. The ministry bill in no way confronts the real ills plaguing the sector, nor does it put any order into the tortuous dealings between civil engineers and the civil services. It restricts itself to separating the civil engineer’s fee from the project budget and establishes a project designer’s quote for the costs as the basic criteria for assigning a project in the public sector. A rough picture of the situation can be gained from the monthly report by Dimitris Papayiannis, the general secretary of the Civil Engineers’ Association of Greece. The final design for the Kakia Skala section of the Athens-Corinth highway, 10 years in the making, was changed completely after the contractors moved in, after a large seismic fault was discovered in the area. Instead of seeking answers, the State reassigned the project to the same civil engineering company. The design to upgrade the Panathenaic Stadium, which includes the archery venue and the finish of the Olympic marathon, were also assigned by negotiation. The General Secretariat for Sports, responsible for assigning the studies, was only allowed to do that if the designs cost less than 200,000 euros. The final cost for these, however, is over 23 million euros. The new racecourse and Olympic Equestrian Center at Markopoulo, outside Athens, were also assigned, again by the General Sports Secretariat, by negotiation. The cost was over 6.68 million euros, plus 1.2 million in VAT. Assigning by negotiation is not only illegal, but means under-the-table payments of 20 percent of the cost of the project. With many Olympic projects, such as the Faliron Delta installations (including the refurbishment of the coastline, the beach volleyball court for 10,000 spectators, the handball and tae kwon do venues), the Hellenikon installations, the Aghios Cosmas sailing center, the Schinias rowing center, the building contractors also undertook to draw up the final design. This means they undertook to carry out either the final design or the design for implementing the project, with everything that involves for the construction stage.