NEWS

Olympics 1 bln in the red this year

Budget overruns for the August Olympics, strenuously denied by the previous government, will be well in excess of 1 billion euros – nearly 22 percent of the total – the Economy Ministry said yesterday. It was the first overall calculation of how deeply in the red the Herculean project is, and only includes overruns in 2004, Deputy Economy Minister Christos Folias said. While the Socialist government that stepped down following the March 7 elections insisted that the original 4.6-billion-euro budget would only be minimally exceeded, the New Democracy administration has claimed for years that there would be large overruns. On Thursday, Public Works Minister Giorgos Souflias said his ministry’s entire Olympic budget had risen from 1.65 to 2.27 billion euros. Folias said that the Public Works Ministry’s Olympics outlays this year were 250 million euros above the expenses included in the 2004 state budget. The Culture Ministry is 412 million euros in the red, other ministries are a total 288 million over budget, and regional authorities will need an extra 50 million euros. «This is a bad budget,» he said. According to Folias, the initial overall budget for this year had been 1.4 billion euros. That has since grown to 2.4 billion, «using the most conservative estimates.» Meanwhile, Alternate Culture Minister for Olympic preparations Fanni Palli-Petralia said Olympic venues under construction in Thessaloniki were behind schedule, but promised all would be ready on time. Also yesterday, the Athens 2004 Organizing Committee said the Oosterdam cruise ship that had been to house visiting officials during the Games will be replaced by the newer Westerdam, which has the same capacity (924 cabins). Both belong to the Holland America Line.