Olympics funds to come under tighter scrutiny

Fearing a possible shortfall of 733 million euros in its Athens 2004 budget, the government has ordered overall monitoring of the state funds being spent on the Olympic preparations, as well as those being spent by the organizing committee. This was decided at the second meeting on the issue in as many weeks and results from a disagreement between the organizing committee and the government over which of the two will foot the bill for bringing facilities up to Olympic standards, as well as paying for the electricity that will be used during the Games and other expenses that had not been budgeted. Athens 2004 Organizing Committee (ATHOC) head Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, who appeared angry as she left yesterday’s meeting, is to meet privately with Prime Minister Costas Simitis this morning. Last Wednesday, Angelopoulos-Daskalaki rejected government ministers’ claims that her committee was spending lavishly, stressing that all ATHOC’s expenses were overseen by three independent committees. The government also demands that ATHOC foot the bill for projects that will not be kept after the 2004 Games. ATHOC has a budget of close to 2 billion euros which it considers balanced and the government has one of 4.6 billion euros. Neither wants to be forced to spend any more. «As we are entering the final phase of Olympic preparations, at a difficult time for the world, it was deemed necessary to have a system of overall supervision of the partial budgets for the Olympic preparations centered around the Project Supervisory Team (OPE),» the government’s Olympics spokesman, Telemachos Hytiris, said after the meeting. «Our aim is to achieve the greatest possible control over the cost and the greatest possible synergy between the money being spent.» The supervisory team answers to the group of ministers and Athens 2004 officials who met yesterday. National Economy and Finance Minister Nikos Christodoulakis, who was also at the meeting chaired by Simitis, was asked by reporters where the missing money would come from. «From the budget that it should come from,» he said, implying that this was ATHOC’s budget. Funding the projects and supplies for the Olympics has become a major issue for the government, which has already taken out a loan of 1.5 billion euros from the European Investment Bank for this. The government is also under pressure from the International Olympic Committee, other governments and businesses to decide on the security system that it will use during the Games. The tender for this was declared void and a committee is looking into the two bids. Further illustrating why the government is so keen to show that it has the lid on spending, the opposition New Democracy party’s spokeswoman on the Olympics, Fani Palli-Petralia, charged that the 2004 preparations were turning into «a theater of the absurd,» adding, «Only now did they discover the higher prices and deficits.» Hytiris played down the alleged deficit, saying the inspection would show whether the reported shortfall existed.