NEWS

Athens 2004 budget set at 4.4 bln euros

The government said after a meeting yesterday that it had fixed its budget for Olympic projects at 1.5 trillion drachmas (4.4 billion euros) and would shift funds around within this sum wherever the need arose. But the total is expected to rise by another 70 billion drachmas (205.43 million euros) for new projects that are considered essential. The Athens 2004 Organizing Committee, meanwhile, signed a memorandum with the Aegean Ministry yesterday which is aimed at getting people on the country’s islands involved in the Olympic effort as volunteers. In addition, residence will be offered to visitors during the Games in special holiday packages that will include full-day visits to Athens to attend the Olympics. Video walls will also be set up at central points on the islands to provide footage of the Games. Prime Minister Costas Simitis met with ministers involved in the Olympic effort, including National Economy Minister Nikos Christodoulakis, Public Works Minister Vasso Papandreou and Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos, who is in charge of sports. Simitis ascertained the difficulty of maintaining the budget ceiling and that funds could be shifted from one project to another. He asked the Public Works Ministry to present its final budget by tomorrow and to reject several ministries’ demands for funds from the Olympic budget. Government officials believe that the budget can be met if prices are updated to include contractors’ discounts and to take into account projects that have been scaled down or canceled. From the figures presented by ministers, it appears that changes to the Olympic projects have pushed the budget up to 1.6 trillion drachmas (4.7 billion euros). In fact, if all the demands from ministries were to be met, the budget would balloon to 1.8 trillion drachmas (5.28 billion euros), an excess of 280 billion drachmas (820 million euros). After the meeting, deputy government spokesman Telemachos Hytiris said, «The budget is closed.» He explained that the 1.5 trillion drachmas are divided into two parts, of which the first will be spent on Olympic projects and totals 906 billion drachmas (2.66 billion euros) while the second, amounting to 587 billion drachmas (1.72 billion euros), will be assigned to «national» projects, of which 434 billion (1.27 billion euros) will be spent outside Athens.