Olympic Games projects in Athens displace numerous smaller plans in the provinces

Lack of organization and experience, combined with bureaucracy and corruption, have led to major delays in infrastructure projects throughout Greece. The government has responded by mobilizing – no doubt in the hope of winning over voters before the upcoming elections. Low absorption of Regional Operational Programs (ROP) funds from the Third Community Support Framework (CSFIII), which includes thousands of small projects, coupled with strenuous opposition from municipal authorities and local contractors, triggered a meeting at the Maximos Mansion between the prime minister and PASOK party officials. Municipal corporations Even government officials admit that in recent years interest has focused on projects connected with the Olympic Games and on completing major projects that started under CSFII. The same sources say another reason for the delays in furthering small projects in the provinces is that local government has become involved. Municipalities that have created new municipal corporations do not have the organizational skills nor the experience to go ahead with the projects. At the same time, strict controls instituted by the European Union for CSFIII, combined with bureaucracy and corruption, have made matters worse. The Northern Aegean ROP has an absorption rate of only 12 percent, the Epirus ROP 13 percent, Central Greece ROP 13 percent, and most regional programs in Greece reflect a similar picture. So far, some government officials have been presenting the Greece 2004 program, which was created to fudge the fact that most investment had been in Athens because of the Olympic Games. The «discovery» of four Olympic cities (Thessaloniki, Patras, Iraklion and Volos) had the same objective. The Greece 2004 program, which has been the latest arena of controversy between the government and the opposition, with the latter commenting on serious delays in its implementation, provides for investments in sports infrastructure. But the development model, which some criticized as offering «a swimming pool for every village,» proved inadequate. It was not by chance that a few weeks ago the Economy Ministry announced that «a program of about 2 billion euros from reserve and new CSF funding will be put completely at the disposal of development initiatives.» Ways are being sought to expedite sluggish ROPs, and ministers’ sorties into the provinces (which are occasions for long lectures about local projects), are part of an attempt to reverse negative views of the ruling party. Observers say direct initiatives are needed in support of the municipal corporations that have undertaken CSFIII projects. While the major projects have supported powerful contractors, smaller construction firms are threatened with extinction. Monopolization of the projects by a few powerful construction groups, and the serious problems faced by smaller firms are apparent in 2002 financial year statistics. Technical firms at the top of the pile more than doubled the amount of work they did in 2002, while smaller contractors involved mainly in minor local projects saw their incomes fall by 13.74 percent and their profits evaporate. The problems with small projects are not solely due to obstacles within the organizations that have undertaken them. Executives of construction firms say that while the corruption associated with major projects dominates public interest, it is also widespread in projects with smaller budgets. Contractor dealers Some contractors, for example, known as dealers, approach mayors saying they can persuade regional authorities to approve funding for a project in their area. In return for their mediation, the dealer wants to be assigned a project through a rigged competition. The chaos that reigns in the field of small provincial projects was expressed clearly by Deputy Economy Minister Christos Pachtas a few months ago when he stated that the authorities on a small island had broken up an anti-flooding project (budgeted at around 5.8 million euros) into 150 smaller contracts.