Thessaloniki still shoulders debts as Cultural Capital of Europe 1997

Eight years after the end of Thessaloniki’s stint as «Cultural Capital of Europe 1997,» the debts are far from being paid off and the current heads of the Culture Ministry are facing bills (for buildings, infrastructure, labor, and utilities) amounting to over 25 million euros. Deputy Culture Minister Petros Tatoulis last week released the exact sums owed, citing poor management and overspending. «We had to close the Thessaloniki Cultural Capital Organization that had continued to exist under an irregular status,» he told the press. He also said there had been «criminal acts,» since even though the organization had been ordered dissolved, it was still carrying out some infrastructure projects. As of December 12, 2003, the organization was virtually rudderless, since there was no provision for an extension; until then, the former Culture Ministry had been granting six-month extensions. «It appears there was an amateur approach and a lack of control that led to this overspending,» said Tatoulis, emphasizing that based on the organization’s official figures, operational expenses and construction projects totaled 312.6 million euros (that is, 213 percent over budget) and 500.4 million euros for the cultural program (171 percent over budget). The Culture Ministry now has to pay 995,000 euros for the Olympion, 1.2 million for the Lazariston Monastery, 1.6 million for the Macedonian Studies Society, 1.6 million for the Royal Theater, and 645,000 for the Damari open-air theater. Another 1.5 million euros is owed in back pay to staff, about 500,000 euros for closing the organization, and, according to the chief accountant, claims for payment by the Culture Ministry to other organizations could reach 17 million euros. «Since the organization was being closed down, how was it still able to carry out projects?» the minister asked. «An amendment has been passed aimed at closing (the organization) down once and for all on June 30, 2005,» said Tatoulis. «There will be a full audit of the entire period to obtain an exact picture of the situation. «Clearly, this is a issue that will cause us some friction. The responsibility for closing down the organization lies with a five-member council. As for the organization’s staff, at the moment there are 14 people whose contracts have expired. The culture minister will provide for them by means of special work programs in cooperation with the Manpower Organization (OAED).»