Domestic strife for PM

Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis returned from his three-day trip to the US yesterday to find his government furiously attempting to deflect opposition accusations it was guilty of favoritism in its allocation of state sector jobs. «I see a consistent effort from the government to dodge the issue, a cheap effort at that, and an effort to balance things out when there is no room for balancing,» said PASOK spokesman Nikos Athanasakis. His comments come in the wake of the resignation of a senior Interior Ministry aide last week after it was revealed that he acted as a private consultant on employment issues for a state-controlled bank. Thanassis Houpis, who was in charge of the press office of Interior Minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos, also worked as a consultant to the Postal Savings Bank, helping draw up the conditions for the hiring of personnel. The news led to attacks from opposition parties, which claimed that Houpis could help affect the hiring process to favor candidates who were supporters of the ruling conservatives. The government attempted to declare the matter closed with Houpis’s resignation, despite opposition calls for Pavlopoulos himself to resign. The debate, however, has rumbled on with PASOK sensing that the interior minister might be a weak link, especially after the government was forced to delay the implementation of its flagship tender law due to objections by the European Commission. Pavlopoulos was mainly responsible for drafting the law. After meeting with Economy and Finance Minister Giorgos Alogoskoufis yesterday, Karamanlis will turn his focus to the economy in an effort to prevent his government from getting mired in prolonged bickering. The two men discussed the drafting of a law on public-private partnerships which will finance a range of public works and aspirations for a round of privatizations – measures they hope will help boost the economy over the coming months. However, Athanasakis said yesterday that the Socialists’ leader, George Papandreou, intends to submit a request for Parliament to hold an urgent debate on the government’s handling of the civil service, citing what PASOK claims are examples of appointments of department directors which were not based on objective criteria. The Socialists also took issue with the government’s introduction of personal interviews into the hiring process, which would bypass the Supreme Board for Personnel Selection (ASEP), the state agency responsible for job placements in the public sector.