Government faces sharp criticism over blackouts

As Attica reels from snowstorm confusion, PM announces bill to clarify overlapping responsibilities

Government faces sharp criticism over blackouts

In the aftermath of the power outages caused by this week’s snowstorm, along with the acrimonious blame game that ensued between different authorities and intense criticism from the political opposition, the government sought on Thursday to halt the tide, announcing it will soon table a bill to clarify the overlapping responsibilities of state and municipal authorities on maintenance issues.

Addressing New Democracy’s central committee, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis expressed his annoyance at the bickering, which he likened to a “ping pong” game of accusations and counter-accusations.

“It is our decision to proceed with even greater speed to one of our central campaign commitments, which is none other than the clarification of responsibilities at all levels of government, starting with the central state,” he said.

He also said he asked the CEO of the country’s power utility (PPC), Georgios Stassis, to consider a reduction in February’s electricity bills for households that were left without power for three days during the snowstorm. 

The main point of contention was the state mechanism’s response and which authority was ultimately responsible for pruning trees on the streets, as fallen branches were among the major causes of the power outages in thousands of homes. In addition hundreds of utility poles – some of which are wooden – were toppled, dragging nearby power lines down with them.

With this in mind, the government also said it will prioritize the replacement of overhead cables providing electrical power with underground cables in critical areas.

However, the PM’s pledges were not enough to mitigate fierce criticism from opposition parties, which criticized the government for the fact it had not prepared for the bad weather that had been forecast beforehand and was expected by authorities.

SYRIZA bemoaned that thousands of households were left without electricity and heating for a fourth day.

“Let him stop looking for those responsible in order to transfer his own responsibilities. Chaos and staff incompetence have his signature,” SYRIZA said. “Citizens are paying for the prime minister’s ping-ponging between carelessness and incompetence,” it added. In general, opposition parties were in agreement over the government’s poor handling of the two-day snowstorm.

The leader of the Movement for Change, Fofi Gennimata, derided Mitsotakis for “pretending to be Pontius Pilate” and referred to “the complete failure of the state mechanism.” She accused Mitsotakis of passing the buck. “But the reality is not hidden,” she said. 

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