NEWS

PM to ministers: Hurry up or go

Immediately after members of his new Cabinet were sworn in before President Costis Stephanopoulos, Prime Minister Costas Simitis told his ministers to work fast and effectively or be dismissed. Simitis’s demands and exhortations were aimed at presenting a bold new phase in his government nine months before elections must be held, and were intended to avert criticism that has followed a Cabinet reshuffle that was far less bold than had been suggested by the prime minister’s earlier comments and his sacking of PASOK’s general secretary last week. Simitis said he would remain personally involved in preparations for the Athens 2004 Olympics and in the management of funds from the EU’s Third Community Support Framework. He presented his decision to keep most ministers in place in his 49-member Cabinet as the desire for continuity rather than appointing many new ministers who would need time to learn their jobs. In Friday’s reshuffle, he replaced five deputy ministers with new ones, promoted one deputy minister to minister, shifted one minister sideways and replaced another. All key members of the Cabinet stayed. «I do not especially care for frequent changes to the government. I am interested in continuity; I am interested in people knowing their subject and in results, so that there is no waste of time. But if I see that a change is necessary to make things run more quickly, I will not hesitate to carry it out,» Simitis told the Cabinet. «The people want results, they want care taken of their needs and they want certain negative issues that weigh heavily on certain social groups, such as queues, to be dealt with,» Simitis said. «At the same time, we need to deal with certain new forms of misleading and exploiting people,» he added, referring to a new practice by banks to issue credit cards without getting the ostensible holder’s permission. «Such practices are impermissible and must be dealt with, as must the exploitation of immigrants.» The prime minister denied reports that he would set up a «directorate» that would include senior ministers and PASOK’s new general secretary, Michalis Chrysochoidis, in order to keep tabs on progress in applying the government’s program. «There will not be a directorate because it is not necessary,» Simitis said, adding that the Cabinet and Inner Cabinet would meet regularly. He is expected to meet with Chrysochoidis once a week to coordinate government and party work. Simitis appointed the former public order minister, Chrysochoidis, in place of Costas Laliotis, a powerful party cadre, in PASOK’s No. 2 position in a move that sent shock waves through the political system. With elections due by next spring, Simitis said radical change was needed to meet the demands of the electorate. The opposition New Democracy party is leading PASOK in opinion polls. «We have absolutely no time to waste,» Simitis stressed. He told his ministers to give him policy programs by the end of August and to visit the provinces through July and August. In September, Simitis will present a «Charter for Social Convergence.» He urged ministers to respond to all challenges by New Democracy, saying, «There must be a response.» Simitis is also expected to begin discussions soon on changing the electoral law (which will include breaking up large constituencies), keeping stronger controls over the assets of members of Parliament and taking other steps aimed at increasing transparency in the political system. New Democracy spokesman Theodoris Roussopoulos commented: «Mr Simitis said that he does not like change. What he did not say, but everyone understands, is that he cannot carry out the changes that the country and people want. That is why the time he is trying to gain is time lost for Greece. The only clear solution left for Mr Simitis is to call elections.»