State tender bill clears a first hurdle

Parliament’s committee on justice voted in principle yesterday in favor of a bill submitted by the ruling conservatives that seeks to block access to lucrative public contracts by influential media barons. In addition to some last-minute tweaking of the draft law – which opposition parties voted against – the government pledged to take future legislative action to prevent businesspeople targeted by the law from dodging the ban by nominally transferring their companies to puppet figures. Interior Minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos told Synaspismos Left Coalition MP Fotis Kouvelis – who proposed the measure – that his idea would be incorporated in a future law on broadcasting firms. «Barriers must be raised to stop entangled interests, and our political system must use all means at its disposal,» Kouvelis said. «How can we allow [these interests] to continue to function with straw men?» According to the proposal, private contracts on asset transfers involving firms targeted by the public tenders bill – even those signed outside Greece – will be considered void if it can be proved that the transactions are phoney. It is unclear exactly how that will be done. The bill on state tenders – which is expected to be passed next week by Parliament’s plenary session, in which the ruling conservatives hold 165 out of the 300 seats – stipulates that anyone owning 1 percent or more in media firms cannot bid for state contracts. The previous limit was 5 percent. Furthermore, it precludes the close relatives of such «major» media shareholders from access to public tenders. The draft law, which was tabled in Parliament on December 20, also sets out that all holdings in media firms, as well as in companies taking part in tenders for major public works, must be registered. This was seen as necessary in order to thwart the practice of businesspeople banned from state contracts by existing legislation to shelter behind offshore companies. Under an amendment to the bill passed yesterday, radio and TV stations caught in breach of the law will permanently lose their licenses. But newspapers will only be forced to close down for up to one month. Ruling New Democracy’s key slogan ahead of the elections last March was to crack down on corruption involving state contracts after construction firms with media holdings and perceived close ties to the Socialist government won a string of lucrative deals.

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