NEWS

The vicious cycle in Greece’s public works sector

Kathimerini has repeatedly drawn attention to the inefficiency and lack of transparency in the way public works in Greece are assigned and carried out – the problems that arise from the existing «mathematical formula» for assigning the projects, the problems of shoddy work, overstepping budgets and time schedules. A typical example perhaps, is the Land Register. If it goes ahead at the same rate it has started out, it will be completed in 104 years! Nevertheless, it appears that in many cases the diseases plaguing Greek public works are infectious. They affect other works in progress, as well as the country’s viable development. The major public works are usually considered as independent entities when they should be incorporated into wider development strategies. A survey I undertook along with my associates and professors at the National Technical University of Athens titled «Evaluation of Major Projects in the Third Community Support Framework» indicates the existence of a vicious cycle of self-inflicted failure, where government failures in certain major works have a direct effect on the proper execution of other public works and hold back the country’s growth. Just a few examples are sufficient. Lack of Land Register. The government’s failure to move ahead with setting up the Land Register can only lead to uncertainty in the property market and many problems with expropriations when planning public works – as we saw with the Attiki Odos. Railways. The government’s failure to improve the railway system will put an even greater burden on the already problematic road network when the opposite should be happening. Ionian Highway. The government’s failure to construct the Ionian Highway on schedule not only raises questions about the general development value of the Rio-Antirio bridge project when completed but also perpetuates the isolation and underdevelopment of Epirus, one of the poorest regions in the European Union’s 15 member states. More cars. The government’s failure to construct a broader underground transport system within Athens, combined with the irrational management of other means of transport, has limited the effectiveness of the Attiko Metro, as evident from the continual increase in the number of the private cars. The metro’s effectiveness is being undermined even further by the delay in constructing transit points and parking stations, which has discouraged people from using the system. Egnatia Highway. The government’s failure to complete the Egnatia Highway and the connecting routes toward the country’s northern neighbors has perpetuated Greece’s isolation at a time when markets are opening up in the EU’s new member states in Central and Eastern Europe. The highway’s problems make the Ionian Highway less attractive to private investors. Delays with the Egnatia Highway also reduce the benefits from the northern section of the Western Axis and make building it even more difficult, thus depriving Epirus of another important boost to its development. This list could perhaps be lengthened but these examples are enough for the analysis that should be done more often in evaluating major public works. These examples make clear that various major contractors have earned a great deal from public works, far more than even they themselves ever imagined but benefits to the average citizen are far less in relation to the amounts of money spent. A radical review is urgently needed of the system for assigning and executing state projects. Major interests are at stake here and a bipartisan consensus is needed to clear the landscape and impose rules of transparency. We should incorporate the planning of these projects into a broader development strategy that would coordinate them, respect the public and protect the environment. (1) Costis Hadjidakis is a New Democracy Eurodeputy.