NEWS

Deadline fears for some 2004 projects

The public works minister, newly appointed last week, stunned a meeting of top government officials and Olympics organizers yesterday by saying that it was doubtful whether some of the projects undertaken by her ministry will be ready in time for the Games. It will be difficult for some of the Public Works Ministry’s projects to be completed, Vasso Papandreou is reported to have said. This confirmed fears that Papandreou’s predecessor in the post, Costas Laliotis (who has since moved to the position of general secretary of the ruling PASOK party), had left the government racing against time in order to prepare the Games in time. Deputy Press Minister Telemachos Hytiris, who was appointed last week to head the Olympics communications, told reporters that where something could not be built the government would go ahead with alternative plans. Responding to Papandreou’s comment, Prime Minister Costas Simitis, who was presiding over the meeting of ministers involved in the Olympic effort as well as Athens 2004 organizers, called for all problems to be tackled the moment they arise. The Olympics are the government’s first priority, he stressed. The Games are everybody’s business and they demand hard work, he added. Although this is obvious, it is good to keep repeating it. Athens 2004 president Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki also expressed concern at the tight deadlines that Greece has to meet, without criticizing any ministers directly. Papandreou did not name the projects that are in trouble but, according to sources, some are directly related to the Olympics and others indirectly. She appeared to suggest that the problematic projects are the Olympic Village and the media villages, the Flisvos coastal road, the canoe and kayak center and the planned improvements to roads around the Peace and Friendship Stadium at Neo Faliron and on Kifissias Avenue, as well as another five sports venues undertaken by the Public Works Ministry. The new minister fears that these projects will run into many legal problems, especially due to nearby residents going to court to stop them, which could lead to unpredictable delays. She is also concerned about the viability of some of the construction projects as well as conflicting jurisdiction between ministries. Sources said that Papandreou had warned Simitis that she would make her concerns known. After yesterday’s meeting, she also called Laliotis and told him that her statements were not aimed to discredit his achievements at the Public Works Ministry in the last eight years. The meeting also confirmed that Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos will have the overall supervision of the Olympic preparations, while Hytiris will act as Olympic spokesman. It remained unclear what tasks the other six deputy ministers appointed to handle Athens 2004 preparations will have. The ministers of the deputy ministers involved have been asked to give Simitis proposals within the week regarding how to use the newly appointed Cabinet members. The International Olympic Committee’s coordination commission is due to arrive for another inspection on December 21. On his last visit, commission chairman Denis Oswald remarked that the delay in construction projects was alarming. Shopping hours. All stores are to close one hour earlier as of tomorrow, November 1. Opening times remain unchanged. Supermarkets and commercial stores will remain open until 8 p.m., instead of till 9 p.m. Winter shopping hours last until March 31, 2002.