NEWS

No state aid forthcoming for smaller businesses

State aid was restricted to homeowners, leaving small businesses out of the earthquake compensation program, though many submitted applications to the prefecture, the Earthquake Victims’ Rehabilitation Department and other organizations, but received no response. «Not only had no funds been set aside for the purpose, but no record was made of the damages, not even for ‘home industries,’» said Hadzimichalis. So in some cases, compensation for damage to homes was used to get businesses going again. One of the biggest problems was the long delays in having buildings inspected. The Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which sent inspectors out to record damage to equipment and materials did not provide material support for the firms. The Social Security Foundation (IKA) and the tax department did not give business owners any grace periods (in paying debts) but actually imposed fines for delayed payments. Nor could the businesses benefit from any state assistance to industry, as many did not have operating permits or even building permits because they had not thought it worth the trouble of getting one. In order to reduce operating costs, they had been operating in the gray area between legality and irregularity; the latter included moonlighting on the part of both owners and family members, «neglecting» to pay social security contributions, or concealing part of the business activity. Apart from the bureaucratic problems, there are also the additional procedures in the category of «industry» (procedures for the «home» category are much simpler), delays in getting the damage evaluated and the cost of building renovation designs and approval for permits. No wonder owners of small and medium-sized businesses were not able to obtain state aid, why they have been so critical of the state agencies and also why they have been proud of their ability to repair the damage by themselves. Even those who obtained permits and could afford the inspection and repair permits, the State’s aid (in the form of free aid and interest-free loans) was the equivalent to only half of the real cost of the repair or rebuilding. The businesses, already burdened by loans taken out before the earthquake, could not assume the additional burden of a new loan or any additional investment. According to the results of the survey, the authorities operate as if they are dealing with the ideal business; there is no room for flexibility in adapting their programs to the characteristics of the real businesses. On the other hand, they turn a blind eye to the effect the infringement of the law has on the workers’ conditions of health and security. «The Greek State’s standard practice of handing out earthquake loans to repair buildings using unified criteria, whether the loans are for homes or industries, is mistaken,» said Hadzimichalis. «What should happen is on the one hand for the State and society, including business owners, to prepare themselves for situations such as earthquakes, and on the other, to consider how the phenomenon of earthquakes could open up new possibilities and opportunities.» For businesses, the main issue is to keep them open and running. Earthquakes destroy buildings that should already have been repaired or replaced, but they also create possibilities for change in the urban fabric, opportunities for redistribution of land use, and a change in mentality regarding the overexploitation of urban land. Western Athens should serve as an example in the reconsideration of many strategies by the State and the individual.